The sauna has its origins in Finland, where the Finnish people used dry heat to encourage sweating and breathing in warm air to open up your lungs and facilitate better breathing. The first Finnish saunas were dug in the ground with fireplaces used to generate heat. While saunas provide a dry heat, they still retain some moisture that can benefit your breathing and aid in relaxation. Saunas are not right for appropriate for everyone, however. Speak to your physician before using a sauna.
Saunas are typically wood-paneled rooms heated via a wood or electric stove. Another option is an infrared sauna that releases heat the body directly absorbs. If the sauna uses a stove, it may have a set of heated hot rocks over which you pour water to release moisture into the air. Sauna temperatures vary based on the location, but are typically heated to temperatures between 160 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the health and wellness resource at Columbia University. The humidity varies from 5 to 30 percent in a sauna. A sauna is not to be confused with a steam room, which uses moist heat at a 100 percent rate of humidity.
A 2004 study published in the American Heart Association's journal "Circulation" found congestive heart failure patients who used a sauna for 15 minutes at 140 degrees Fahrenheit experienced fewer harmful preventricular contractions than those who did not. A sauna’s heat also helps to open your pores, which promotes sweating and cleanses your skin. The high temperatures promotes blood flow and circulation, which can make you feel energized after a sauna, according to Harvard University. Using a sauna also promotes an overall sense of well-being. A studied published in the 2005 edition of "Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics" found 46 chronic pain patients reported decreased incidences of pain, anger and depression when using an infrared sauna on a weekly basis.
Saunas do not aid in weight loss, though they do aid in sweating, which may make you temporarily lighter. No scientific evidence proves that saunas stimulate weight loss. You may find you lose weight after a sauna due to water lossfrom sweating, but the weight loss is not permanent.
Saunas are not appropriate for those with heart conditions or who are pregnant, according to the American Heart Association. This is because the high temperature in a sauna opens up your blood vessels, which increases the amount of blood flow. If you have been diagnosed with heart disease and your physician warns you against moderate exercise, using a sauna is not safe. Check with your physician if you have high blood pressure -- providing your blood pressure is not too elevated, you should be able to use a sauna without adverse effects. Don't use a sauna if you have been drinking as this can cause your blood pressure to drop dramatically, potentially causing you to lose consciousness.
- Go Ask Alice!: Steam Room vs. Sauna
- Harvard Medical School: Sauna Health Benefits: Are Saunas Healthy or Harmful?
- American Heart Association: Hot Tub and Sauna Use and High Blood Pressure
- Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics: The Effects of Repeated Thermal Therapy for Patients With Chronic Pain
- Circulation: Effects of Repeated Sauna Treatment on Ventricular Arrhythmias in Patients With Chronic Heart Failure
Rachel Nall began writing in 2003. She is a former managing editor for custom health publications, including physician journals. She has written for The Associated Press and "Jezebel," "Charleston," "Chatter" and "Reach" magazines. Nall is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Tennessee.