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The Purpose of a Sauna

By Patrick Dale ; Updated July 18, 2017

Saunas are popular features in many health clubs and gymnasiums. Heat-retaining stones are warmed to high temperatures, which then radiate heat within the confines of the room. The air temperature will rise up to around 90 degrees centigrade or 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Water can then be poured onto the stones to produce steam to increase humidity and temperature. Saunas have a long history and offer numerous benefits to their users.

History

Saunas originated in Finland and were originally small log cabins, which contained open braziers that were used to heat stones to a high temperature. Other Baltic countries have a history of using similar heat cabins, although the word “sauna” is Finnish and means small cottage or room. Where saunas originally used open fires, modern day saunas use electric heating elements to heat stones, although some use infrared heating elements instead.

Sauna Benefits - Physiological

Saunas increase your body temperature and make you sweat, which triggers a host of physiological changes. As your temperature rises, your blood vessels expand, which is called vasodilation, and this is linked to a reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Increased blood flow and synovial fluid production can help reduce the pain associated with arthritic pain.

Regular sauna use is also linked improved immune system function as well as increased testosterone levels in men. The heavy perspiration caused by sauna use helps rid your body of various toxins from your body's largest organ—your skin. You may experience "break outs" in the days following a sauna, but these will become less frequent and severe as you become accustomed to the detoxifying effect and your body relieves itself of impurities.

Sauna Benefits - Psychological

Many sauna users report feelings of deep relaxation after using a sauna. Saunas can help relieve stress through to the increased production of the feel-good hormone, endorphin, and the reduction of adrenalin and noradrenalin production. Muscle tension melts away in the heat of the sauna, and, in many cultures, a sauna is a social experience where friends and family members sit, talk and relax together, which has a very positive effect on mood.

Sauna Contraindications

Although using a sauna has a number of benefits, the extreme heat can be detrimental to those with certain medical conditions. If you suffer from unstable angina pectoris, any weeping skin condition, are hung over, suffering from dehydration or under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you should not use a sauna. If in any doubt, seek medical advice before using a sauna for the first time.

Sauna Etiquette and Use

Sauna etiquette can differ from country to country, some saunas are mixed whereas others are single sex. In some saunas, bathing suits are optional while others insist that you keep covered. If in doubt, ask to avoid any embarrassment.

To get the most from a sauna, have a warm shower beforehand and enter the sauna with damp skin—this will stop you from burning before you begin to sweat.

Take breaks by having a shower, and, if available, use the plunge pool to cool down. A sauna creates a dry heat, but many users prefer a more humid environment. To increase the humidity in a sauna, pour a small amount of water on the hot stones to create steam.

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