A relaxing massage at the spa or a workout often comes hand in hand with a sweat session inside a steam room or sauna, warming you up and loosening your muscles. But did you know these heated spaces offer a surprising number of health benefits?
But First: Sauna or Steam Room – What’s the Difference?
Saunas have been used in Finland for more than 200 years. Traditionally, these rooms are heated using a stove with rocks over it. 1 Often, water is ladled onto the rocks. The temperature in saunas can get between 160 and 200°F – and it’s a dry heat. Humidity levels in saunas typically range between five to 30 percent. A new type of sauna – called an infrared sauna – uses light to warm only your body, instead of the air around it. 2
Conversely, steam rooms usually deliver 100 percent humidity, with temperatures ranging from 110 to 114°F. These types of sweat baths come from the Roman, Turkish, and Russian traditions of steam bathing.
The benefits of bathing in heat are shared between steam rooms and both traditional and infrared saunas. Here are some ways these heated rooms can boost your health.
1. Less Chance for Dementia
According to the World Health Organization, 47.5 million people in the world have dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. 3 This deterioration in cognitive functioning is a major problem for aging populations. A recent study conducted on 2,000 Finnish men found that using a sauna 4-7 times per week may reduce the risk of dementia.4 Subjects who used a sauna frequently were 66 percent less likely to have dementia as they aged.
2. Lower Risk of Cardiac Death
Heated rooms can also be good for heart health. A 2015 study, also performed in Finland, found that participants who regularly visited a sauna had a lower chance of cardiac death over a 20-year period. 5 The participants, who were exclusively men, boasted the lowest chance of dying from a heart-related problem if they used a sauna 4-7 times per week.
3. Lower Stress
Stress can cause long-lasting negative effects on your body, mood, and behavior. It can also contribute to major health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. 6 Steam rooms and saunas provide a quiet, positive environment similar to meditation. Many people who visit saunas and steam rooms regularly cite stress relief as the experience’s number-one benefit.
4. Lifted Depression
Many people report that saunas and steam rooms improve their moods. Scientific evidence has shown that heating your body in a steam room or sauna can lessen the effects of major depressive disorder. A 2016 study recommended whole-body heating to patients for its antidepressant qualities. 7
5. Improved Athletic Performance
A study conducted by the University of Otago in New Zealand suggests that saunas can improve the endurance of athletes. 8 Granted, the experiment used just six male test subjects, all of whom were long distance runners. Still, the results show promise. Study participants increased their best running speeds after spending time in a sauna. Researchers believe performance was improved due to increased blood volume.
6. Less Chronic Pain
Many people have chronic pain associated with arthritis, fibromyalgia, and other medical conditions. Saunas and steam rooms can help people feel less pain. A study of patients with chronic pain found that infrared saunas, along with other treatments, were effective for pain relief. 9 Two years after the study took place, a majority of patients who had used infrared sauna had returned to work. This indicates that not only did the sauna help their pain in the moment, but that it also had long-standing results.
7. Stronger Immune System
Who wouldn’t want to suffer less often from colds? A study from the University of Vienna, Austria showed that subjects who used a sauna got fewer colds than a control group. 10 This may be because steam rooms and saunas are believed to contribute to overall health, possibly leading to a stronger immune system.
8. Blood Pressure
High blood pressure can lead to many health problems, including heart attacks, strokes, and aneurysm. Saunas have been proven to lower blood pressure. 11 A German study found that sauna use decreased blood pressure in patients with hypertension. 12 This may be because saunas lead to stress relief, which has been shown to reduce blood pressure. 13
9. Chronic Fatigue
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a condition of extreme fatigue for no known reason. There is also no known cure for this syndrome, which can be very frustrating for those suffering from it. 14 A Japanese study showed that heat therapy using saunas can help patients suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome suffer less of the condition’s symptoms. 15
10. Healthy, Younger-Looking Skin
Steam rooms and saunas have many beauty benefits too. Immersing yourself in heat helps relax your facial muscle and open your skin’s pores. People who regularly visit steam rooms and saunas report cleaner, more vibrant skin. 16 This is likely due to increased blood circulation. Though no studies have been done on the topic, many users anecdotally report less acne.
There’s a reason steam rooms and saunas have been around so long. So, next time you consider skipping the heat when you have access to it, you might want to reconsider!
For more helpful health tips, keep reading:
1.”Finnish Sauna Culture – Suomen Saunaseura Ry”. Suomen Saunaseura ry. N.p., 2017. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.
2. “Do Infrared Saunas Have Any Health Benefits? – Mayo Clinic”. Mayo Clinic. N.p., 2017. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.
3. “Dementia”. World Health Organization. N.p., 2017. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.
4. “Frequent Sauna Bathing May Protect Men Against Dementia, Finnish Study Suggests”. ScienceDaily. N.p., 2016. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.
5. Whiteman, Honor. “Men Who Sauna Are ‘At Lower Risk Of Cardiac Death'”. Medical News Today. N.p., 2015. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.
6. “Stress Symptoms: Effects On Your Body And Behavior – Mayo Clinic”. Mayo Clinic. N.p., 2017. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.
7. Janssen CW, et al. “Whole-Body Hyperthermia For The Treatment Of Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2016. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.
8. Janssen CW, et al. “Whole-Body Hyperthermia For The Treatment Of Major Depressive Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 2016. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.
9. Masuda, A. “The Effects Of Repeated Thermal Therapy For Patients With Chronic Pain”. Karger.com. N.p., 2005. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.
10. Ernst E, et al. “Regular Sauna Bathing And The Incidence Of Common Colds. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 1990. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.
11.”Sauna-Induced Sweating Offers Many Health Benefits”. UW School of Medicine and Public Health. N.p., 2017. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.
12. Siewert C, et al. “[The Behavior Of Central And Peripheral Hemodynamics In Isometric And Dynamic Stress In Hypertensive Patients Treatment With Regular Sauna Therapy]. – Pubmed – NCBI”. Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. N.p., 1994. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.
13. 10 Ways To Control High Blood Pressure Without Medication – Mayo Clinic”. Mayo Clinic. N.p., 2017. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.
14. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – Mayo Clinic”. Mayo Clinic. N.p., 2017. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.
15. Tei, Chewa. “Pleiotropic Effect Of Waon Therapy”. N.p., 2009. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.
16. Why Saunas Are Good For You | Health And Beauty Benefits | Australian Natural Health Magazine”. Naturalhealthmag.com.au. N.p., 2017. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.