What Are the Health Benefits of Taking a Sauna?

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Saunas not only feel good and help you to relax, they have some amazing health benefits.

Sauna Background

Saunas are not a new fad.  In fact, they’ve been used for thousands of years in different cultures including Japan, Korea, Turkey, Scandinavia and Native American cultures.

But when you think of a sauna, Finland probably comes to mind.  That’s because the sauna has been a way of life in Finland for over 2,000 years. Sauna (correctly pronounced SOW (rhymes with WOW) -NAH is the only Finnish word in the English dictionary.   

Finland, with a population of 5.3 million people, is estimated to have 3.3 million saunas. That’s enough saunas to house the entire population at one time.  Saunas are found in private homes, offices, factories, gyms, hotels, ships and underground mines.  There’s even a sauna inside the Parliament in Helsinki.

A traditional Finnish sauna is heated by a wood fire which heats rocks on top of the stove.  Water is poured on the rocks to create steam.  This is also referred to as a ‘wet sauna’.   The heat in usually kept between 175-230 F ( 80–110 °C while the steam creates up to 30% humidity.  The contrast of being in a hot steam sauna followed by cold water is the traditional way to sauna.  This might be a jump in a lake or a roll in the snow.  Or simply taking a cool shower.

Finns take sauna’s seriously and it’s considered an essential part of Finnish culture for physical and mental clearing.  Sharing a sauna is a bonding experience in Finland, but it’s not considered sexual or intimate, despite the practice of going in the nude.  Conversations and decisions are made in a sauna.  It is said that more decisions are made in the sauna than in the boardroom in Finland.

Wherever Finns travelled, sauna culture went with them.  Saunas are now a fixture in North America’s states like Minnesota and Wisconsin that were heavily settled by Scandinavian populations.

Electric saunas were developed in the 1950s and gained popularity due to their convenience and accessibility.  This is also referred to as a ‘dry sauna’ since no water is used on rocks.  This creates a dry heat which some users find more tolerable than one with high humidity.  Both dry and wet saunas provide a host of health benefits.  The choice might be personal preference.

The latest sauna trend is infrared heated saunas.  This sauna uses infrared light as radiant heat which is absorbed the skin.  An infrared sauna focuses on heat experience vs humidity.

If you are deciding which type of sauna to pick, there are pros and cons to consider.  However, all saunas provide some great health benefits.

9 Health Benefits of Saunas

What Are the Health Benefits of Taking a Sauna?

If you’re already in the practice of taking a sauna, you know it is both soothing and invigorating at the same time.  A sauna’s additional health benefits are well documented.  Here are 10 reasons why you should incorporate a sauna practice into your health routine.

Relax and Soothes Tired Muscles

If you’ve been out hiking, biking or skiing and your muscles feel sore, the sauna will help loosen your muscles and relax your entire body.

The heat of a sauna increases circulation which helps your body with muscle soreness.  The increased circulation can also improve joint movement, increase mobility and alleviate the pain of arthritis.

Better Sleep

Health benefits include a deeper, more restful sleep due to the relaxing state of the body (and mind) following a sauna.  The sauna encourages the body to go into a parasympathetic state which enables us to rest, heal and destress.  Saunas have also been shown to help lower stress hormones like cortisol.  After a sauna, you feel relaxed which promotes a sense of well-being that helps you sleep better.

Healthy Heart

While saunas are not a replacement for regular exercise, research has shown that regular sauna use can be good for your heart and blood vessels.  Regular sauna goers were found to have a decreased risk for heart disease.  They showed an increased heart rate that was similar to the effects of moderate exercise.

Glowing Skin

It’s no secret that your skin glows following a sauna.  The act of sweating is detoxifying for both your body and your skin.  While sweating, toxins and impurities are removed from your skin and leave you with a rejuvenated and refreshed glow.

Increased circulation and the humidity of a steam sauna are great for your skin, bringing healing elements for a brighter complexion.  Especially for those that live in dry climates.

Improves Circulation

The high heat from saunas increases your heart rate and causes your blood vessels to open up and expand. This helps to improve blood circulation which is beneficial to your health in a number of ways and is a vital part of a healthy lifestyle.  Good circulation helps your heart, lung and muscles function efficiently.   Healthy circulation is also good for your immune system.

Relieves Sinus Congestion

While a sauna is not going to cure the common cold or other medical ailments like a sinus infection, it can help you feel better.  The heat and steam of a traditional sauna open up nasal passages and bronchial tubes offering relief from congestion.  The sauna can also relieve inflammation and break up mucus. For added relief, try adding an essential oil such as eucalyptus or peppermint oil to the water used to steam the sauna.  Not only will this create a relaxing scent, it also helps clear your sinuses.


The heat and steam used in saunas open up the pores and make you perspire heavily.  Sweating helps detoxify the body and results in improved blood circulation, enhanced immune system and revitalized skin.  Your skin will feel well hydrated and clear following a sauna.

Mental Clarity

Whether saunas are taken in private or with family or friends, the traditional Finnish way to take a sauna is to relax and have good conversations.  Saunas are generally dimly lit and quiet in nature.  This is a time to allow your body and mind to relax and restore.  The perfect antidote to modern life with technology, too much screen time and multi-tasking.  The sauna process should be meditative, allying us to slow down and be in the present moment.

Social Connection

In Finland, the sauna is the way that people bond.  It’s time to relax and connect with family and friends (or even colleagues).  Perhaps, this is one of the secrets to the Finns being the happiest people in the world.
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