Lifestyle > Health & Fitness: 8 Health Benefits of Saunas

TEXT: EVENING STANDARD
DATE: NOVEMBER 2017

As an authentic sauna arrives on the Southbank Centre’s rooftop, Laura Hampson shows you why it’s about time we adopted the Finnish way of living.

Saunas are having a moment – and with them, a more Finnish approach to wellbeing.

While Denmark and hygge had its heyday as the latest lifestyle buzzword in 2016, this year we’re looking more towards its Nordic cousin: Finland. Tomorrow, an authentic Finnish sauna opens on the roof of the Southbank Centre and every luxury spa in the UK worth its salt has a top notch one.

But the Finns have been doing saunas right for centuries – heck, there are even more saunas than cars in Finland and they’re a crucial part of its citizens’ day-to-day lives.

A two decade-long study published in 2015 found the more saunas Finnish men and women took per week, the longer they lived. Let it be known that the Finnish have the highest life expectancy in the world.

Saunas actually date back 3,000 years when Mayans in Central America used ‘sweat houses’ for religious ceremonies and good health. You’ll find nearly every ancient culture used heat for some form of relaxation – from Roman baths to Native American sweat lodges.

So why are saunas so good for our health and wellbeing? Gemma Clare, Holistic Health Specialist & Skin Expert told the Standard: “Saunas improve the blood circulation in the body and skin. This increases the oxygen and nutrient supply to cells, and the cell’s metabolic rate (involved with detoxification), which naturally slows down as we age.

“If you have sluggish circulation then a weekly sauna could help to eliminate toxins and achieve glowing skin (always moisturise the skin after you sauna). There is also some evidence to support the health benefits of regular sauna use, including increased heart and brain health. Depending on the benefits you want to achieve will determine the frequency and duration of sauna use. Always check with a health professional before using a sauna as certain health conditions and skin types are contraindicated.”

Here are eight reasons to have a sauna, whether you’re planning a trip to Finland or the Southbank Centre’s rooftop.

1. They are a natural stress relief

Regular sauna users cite stress relief as the biggest benefit of saunas. Stress can have a negative impact on health as many diseases are stress-related.

Saunas are a warm, usually quiet space and the heat of the sauna relaxes the muscles, improves circulation and stimulates endorphin release – causing an after-sauna glow.

2. Saunas relax muscles and soothe aches and pains

The heat of saunas releases endorphins which have a mild numbing effect and can reduce ache pain and muscle soreness.

Your body temperature will also rise which will cause blood vessels to dilate and increase blood circulation – increasing blood flow and speeding up the healing of minor injuries like bruises or cuts.

3. Your skin and hair will never be better

One of the oldest beauty tricks in the book, saunas will cleanse both your skin and hair. Deep sweating cleanses the skin and dead skin cells are replaced. It also rinses bacteria out of the epidermal layer and sweat ducts.

Our scalp contains the sebaceous gland, which can moisturise hair – having a sauna activates this gland. This releases the compounds found in this gland, making hair look great.

4. They can cure a hangover

Or, more accurately, they can flush out toxins like the toxins found in alcohol. A number of other toxins can be removed when we deep sweat, and saunas can reduce levels of lead, copper, zinc, nickel and mercury found in the body.

Detoxifying our bodies regularly is highly recommended by medical professionals and having a sauna is one of the easiest ways to do this.

5. You can burn calories

That’s right, you can lose weight while sitting and doing nothing. It’s a miracle. But while this is true to an extent, saunas should not be considered the be-all and end-all of weight loss methods.

Saunas can be a supplement to weight loss as it takes a lot of energy to reach the deep sweat process – you can burn up to 300 calories in a session.

6. They will help fight off illness

Medical research has shown that saunas can significantly reduce incidence of colds and influenza – and they are also great for clearing the sinuses of anyone who suffers from hay fever.

This is because the heat and steam from the sauna produce white blood cells rapidly which kills of viruses. Saunas that use steam as well can help to clear up congestion.

7. Saunas can help you sleep better

If you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night, unable to get back to sleep saunas can help you to have a more relaxing sleep.

The slow release of endorphins is key to a relaxed and deep sleep.

8. They will improve cardiovascular performance

Regular sauna usage helps to improve the body’s regulatory system as your heart rate rises while you are in the sauna.

To increase the regulatory system even further, taking a quick, cool shower mixed with sauna intervals will increase your heart rate by as much as 60 per cent.