You've undoubtedly heard many times that using a sauna is good for your health, but why? What is it about sitting in a sauna that's so good for you? We break down some of the science behind the sauna experience so you have a better understanding of what your body is doing.
Sweating Out Toxins
We spend a lot of time and energy trying not to sweat--we use anti-perspirants, we wear layers to regulate our temperature. However, sweating is really good for our bodies and we probably aren't doing enough of it. Sweating is our bodies way of cooling itself, but during the process it also excretes molecules that are otherwise cluttering our bloodstream. Perspiration originates directly from the bloodstream. Fluid is delivered from the capillary bed to the sweat gland, carrying organophosphates, heavy metals, pesticides, some preservatives. Flushing these toxins out of your bloodstream prevents them from being stored elsewhere in your body.
Eccrine glands are the major sweat glands, and we about two million of them all over our bodies. They produce an average of a quart of sweat a day, but when you use a sauna they pump out that much in about 15 minutes. This means that using a sauna will purge at least twice as many toxins out of your body in one day than you do on average.
Some experts recommend using far-infrared saunas, as they trigger sweating at a lower temperature than a traditional sauna and it's easier to spend longer periods of time in it. Be sure to hydrate before and after using a sauna to replace lost fluids.
Hot & Cold Intervals
It's traditional in many countries to heat up in the sauna, then plunge into a cold bath, or snow, or stand under an icy shower, then return to the sauna and repeat. It's thought that this process helps tone the skin and improves circulation. If you read Jitterbug Perfume, it's posited that the hot/cold process can be a factor in longevity. What does it really do?
We know that shocking the body with a rapid temperature change releases norepinephrine, which is a stress hormone and neurotransmitter. It also releases epinephrine, more commonly known as adrenaline. When these chemicals are released, the effect is a feeling of invigoration. While that may or may not be the key to good health and long life, it certainly feels good and doesn't do any harm.
Steaming in a sauna also dilates the capillaries and thereby improves blood flow, simulating a mild workout. For individuals with limitations that make more traditional forms of exercise difficult, it can stand in as a gentle alternative. Or add it to the end of a workout to extend the effects of the exercise in a gentle way.