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Get Thee to a Sauna!

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A look at saunas and their role in health.

The people of Finland have been using saunas for 2,000 years. To a Finn, a sauna is not a luxury, but a daily necessity. And for good reason: A recent study out of the University of Eastern Finland found that frequent sauna bathing is especially good at reducing the risk of high blood pressure. The study found that men who had a sauna four to seven times a week had nearly 50 percent lower rates of elevated blood pressure, when compared to men who only went into a sauna once we week. Inspired, for this week’s Healthy Habit, we took a look at saunas and their role in health.

Why Sit in a Sauna?

In addition to helping lower blood pressure, saunas flush toxins out of the skin through sweating, and relax and loosen tight muscles. Raising body temperature is one way people fight disease, boosting the immune system. If you are with friends and family, there are also added social benefits.

How Long to Sit?

Dr. Andrew Weil has written about his love for saunas, noting that sweating dilates the blood vessels. This dilation is what reduces blood pressure, and also increases circulation to the skin. He writes that 10 to 20 minutes is enough per session to cause these effects.

A Variety of Types

One might envision a sauna as a simple, wood-lined room, but there are all sorts of variations on the theme. Russians have long used a banya, where you wear a felt hat, while some Native Americans and Central American cultures have used sweat lodges. At Wi Spa, a Korean spa in Los Angeles, there are five types of saunas, including a super-hot jade room, which the spa claims is best for arthritis and lowering cerebral temperature, and a clay room, where guests immerse themselves under layers of clay balls. Whatever the type of sauna, the goal is to get the body sufficiently hot.

Sauna Safety

Harvard Health reports that saunas are generally safe, but recommends checking with your doctor first if you have any heart-health issues. Also, avoid alcohol before you go into the sauna, and drink plenty of water afterward.

Don’t Have a Sauna?

If you don’t have access to a sauna at your gym or a spa nearby—or if you’re incredibly lucky, in your home—you can replicate the effects by taking a very hot bath. Or, turn your bathroom into a steam room. Livestrong.com suggests going into a small bathroom, putting a rolled up towel against the door to keep in heat and steam, and filling the bathtub with super hot water. Pull the curtain across to keep the steam in while the tub is filling, then pull it back to enjoy the warmth.  


Kathryn Drury Wagner

Kathryn Drury Wagner is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. She is the author of Hawaii’s Strangest, Ickiest, Wildest Book Ever!, a science and natural history “gross out” for young readers.  


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