As I pulled together a bunch of resources to expand my sauna-related knowledge before writing this post, I started to think - man, saunas are weird. The way a word no longer looks like a word if write it too many times, the idea of a sauna suddenly seemed so strange.
I mean, humans generally like being at a comfortable temperature, right? They jump into the cool ocean on swelteringly hot days, and cozy up by fires during cold winter storms. And they air condition their homes so that they can, for the most part, avoid those extreme temperatures in the first place. But then once in awhile, they’ll go sit in a crazy hot wooden box for a few minutes to sweat? Weird.
But from another viewpoint, it's kinda nice. You sit down on a wooden bench, surrounded by comforting heat and the smell of cedar wood. The sweat cleans out your pores and relaxes your mind. Your only task is to sit still and enjoy. It’s a perfect self-care ritual, like a nice morning or bedtime routine.
When we look at it that way, it’s a little more clear why people ever decided to build little wooden rooms and pour water on hot rocks in the first place.
A bit of history: Saunas were actually very common throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, but the tradition disappeared in most places because of the spread of syphilis (yikes). But not in Finland! According to Wikipedia, “The Sauna as known in the western world today” came from Finland. Their first saunas were pits dug into the ground with fireplaces where rocks were heated. Eventually, they brought their sauna designs with them as they migrated around the world (source).
So now we are lucky enough to have saunas even if we don't live in Finland! Which is awesome, because I’m about to tell you 5 reasons why you should go to a sauna ASAP and sweat it out for a couple of minutes. Ready?
1. Improve physical endurance for those tough workouts
This is called “hyperthermic conditioning”. Basically, when you exercise, you warm up, right? And the more you exercise, the more exercise you are able to handle. So when you sit in a sauna, you are getting your body more acclimated to the heat, and thus able to handle more intense exercise! Of course, this isn’t going to take the place of regular exercise (nice try), but wouldn’t we all love a little bit of extra endurance to push through our workouts? (source)
2. Relieve any sort of pain you might be having
In a variety of studies, infrared sauna therapy was shown to reduce fibromyalgia pain, peripheral arterial disease leg pain, rheumatoid arthritis pain, and chronic pain of all kinds (source). Nice!
3. Clear up your skin
Sweating profusely cleans out your pores, which might have accumulated sweat and grime. Once you’re done in the sauna, make sure you shower with warm water to remove all of the sweat before turning the water to cold to close up those pores (source).
4. Sleep better (great for a Sunday routine!)
When preparing for sleep, your body temperature drops. Ever feel chilly when you're working late into the night? It might make it hard to stay awake when you really need to finish that report, but we can use this process to our advantage. A little hack, if you will.
If you spend some time in a sauna in the evening, your body temperature will rise and then fall back down to room temperature once you step out. This temperature drop will trick your brain, in a way, making you feel sleepy! (source)
5. Balance out your hormones
I don’t need to tell you that saunas are relaxing. The calming effect lowers the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your body, thus balancing out other hormones such as insulin, testosterone, and estrogen. It’s always good to relax! (source)
I’m lucky enough to have a sauna in my house (my parents lived in Sweden for a few months when I was a baby, and I guess the custom rubbed off on them). However, if you don’t have one in your house, a very common place to find a sauna is in your local gym. Otherwise, check out what spas are in your area, or ask your friends.
My family has recently committed to using our sauna once a week. We decided that each Sunday will be “Family Night” and we will all go in the sauna and then watch a movie. It’s the perfect way to end a week on a relaxing note before Monday arrives. When I leave the sauna, I feel totally relaxed and ready to sleep like a baby.
That reminds me of another benefit I didn't mention! If you go to the sauna with family or friends, you get that bonus boost of happiness from socialization :)
As always, the best advice is: Listen. To. Your. Body. Okay? This ain’t a workout. If you’re feeling uncomfortable, don’t push through it. You had better be pushing- on that door to leave. Drink plenty of water before and after, because you’ll get dehydrated. And make sure you never go alone. Because if something happens to you, if you faint, it is imperative that there is someone there who will be able to immediately call for help.
As long as you stay safe and follow common sense, saunas are an amazing tool for health and relaxation!
Have you ever been in a sauna?