From ski resorts to medical laboratories, public opinion about saunas has changed drastically over the past 20 years. Saunas were once considered by many as a luxurious form of relaxation at a spa, or other high-end facility.
Like hot tubs, sauna use came with a long list of contraindications, some of which continue to be relevant, while other warnings served only to perpetuated myths surrounding sauna usage.
Today, saunas are researched for their formidable health benefits at some of the most rigorous medical and scientific institutions in the world. Health benefits associated with sauna bathing are numerous, and moreover these benefits are quantifiable and measurable.
Regardless of the available research data on sauna use, it is always best to consult with a medical professional before beginning a regular sauna program.
Nevertheless, there remain several myths surrounding sauna bathing that deserve clarification based on a factual analysis.
- You Cannot Use A Sauna If You Have Hypertension or Heart Related Issues
- Weight Loss From Saunas Is Only Water Loss
- You Cannot Use A Sauna Everyday
- Saunas and Pacemakers Don’t Mix
- Saunas Are Difficult and Expensive To Maintain
- The Hotter The Temperature The Better
- The Longer You Stay In The Suna, The better
Myth #1 You Cannot Use A Sauna If You Have Hypertension or Heart Related Issues
Reality: Regular sauna bathing is actually excellent for improving heart health in almost all cases. The cardiovascular engagement required for the body to begin temperature regulation during a sauna is helpful in preventing heart disease, and also may be helpful in treating hypertension.
The National Library of Medicine published a journal in 2018 entitled: “Cardiovascular and Other Health Benefits of Sauna Bathing: A Review of the Evidence”.
In this article several sauna myths are debunked including those myths that may limit individuals with heart issues from participating in sauna bathing. Here are some of the conclusions from this journal:
“Emerging evidence suggests that beyond its use for pleasure, sauna bathing may be linked to several health benefits, which include reduction in the risk of vascular diseases such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and neurocognitive diseases; nonvascular conditions such as pulmonary diseases; mortality; as well as amelioration of conditions such as arthritis, headache, and flu. The beneficial effects of sauna bathing on these outcomes have been linked to its effect on circulatory, cardiovascular, and immune functions.” (1)
While it is always important to monitor your heart rate during any physical activity, and be mindful of how long you stay in the sauna, there is enough data to suggest that with proper precautions, not only are saunas safe for individuals with hypertension, but more that saunas may help in improving heart conditions.
Myth #2 Weight Loss From Saunas Is Only Water Loss
Reality: The reason why individuals find an equilibrium with their weight with regular sauna use is not because of the fluid lost through sweat, but rather because of the biological mechanisms in the body that are engaged to cool the body off.
Taking a sauna engages the cardiovascular system and essentially mimics certain cardiovascular activities such as jogging. It takes energy in order to cool the body down with sweat and the positive changes in body composition as a result of regular sauna bathing are not a result of lost fluid. It is, however, important to stay well hydrated if you are engaging in regular sauna use.
A study published by the National Library of Medicine entitled “Sauna-Induced Body Mass Loss in Young Sedentary Women and Men” published in 2014 demonstrates not only a loss of body mass in the subjects of the study, but moreover a significant change in body composition. Individuals engaged in the study emerged with less fatty tissue and more overall muscle mass. (2)
While it remains true that significant fluid loss occurs during a sauna session, this can be rectified with water intake to prevent dehydration. The ‘weight loss’ experienced after regular sauna use is a result of an uptake in regular cardiovascular activity, not simply water loss.
Myth # 3 You Cannot Use A Sauna More Than Once A Week
Reality: Many sauna health benefits are compound and require the use of sauna at least three times a week and sometimes more often. It is best to consider sauna use as a lifestyle choice, such as a regular exercise program that you do several times a week.
Most studies suggest that sauna use is most effective when used at least 3 times a week for 20 minutes. If you choose to sauna daily, then it is imperative that hydration be maintained at all times. The greatest risk in regular sauna use is dehydration. So if you are using a sauna 4-7 times a week it is important to eat nutritious meals and drink plenty of water.
If an individual chooses to sauna between 4-7 times a week and does so responsibly with enough water intake, it is possible to sauna daily or almost daily safely. Always consult a medical practitioner if you are unsure if sauna use is safe for you.
Myth # 4 Saunas and Pacemakers Don’t Mix
Reality: It may come as a surprise, but it is possible to use a sauna even if you have a pacemaker implant. In fact, using a sauna regularly is important for overall heart health and can be continued even with a pacemaker.
If you have a pacemaker or know someone with one who would like to use saunas with peace of mind, you can read the full article on pacemakers and sauna use here: Pace Makers and Sauna Use
Check with your surgeon or medical practitioner to be sure that your particular type of pacemaker is safe to use in a sauna.
Myth # 5 Saunas Are Difficult and Expensive To Maintain
Reality: Saunas have often been associated with high end spas and luxury resorts and accessible only to the financially affluent. The reality is that bringing a sauna into your home is affordable not only for the initial purchase but also for upkeep and maintenance. This is particularly true if you choose an infrared sauna.
The advent of the popularity of infrared saunas in the past twenty years has made in-home sauna use much more accessible. Steam rooms can be a challenge to build and maintain with the high levels of moisture. Traditional saunas can cost more initially, and may also require significantly higher levels of electrical usage, but infrared saunas are dry, clean, and relatively simple to maintain. If you are looking to sauna regularly, or at least 3 times it is simple and easy to bring an infrared sauna into your home.
Myth # 6 The Hotter The Temperature The Better
Reality: The hotter you set your sauna temperature does not necessarily mean the better the results will be. This is particularly true if you have children or elderly individuals using a sauna. Furthermore, the type of heat used in your sauna will also impact how important a high heat sauna is.
Traditional saunas rely on heating up the atmospheric temperature of the sauna and in order to reach certain core body temperatures, it is true that a higher heat will be important. If, however, you choose to use an infrared sauna, a high temperature does not necessarily produce better results as the radiant light frequency of infrared heat increases the internal body temperature without relying on high atmospheric heat.
Higher temperatures do not necessarily produce better health results, particularly if you are using an infrared sauna. Certain physical conditions respond better to low temperatures in an infrared sauna and the immersion into the wavelengths of infrared light.
Myth # 7 The Longer You Stay In the Sauna, the Better the Results
Reality: More frequent but shorter sauna sessions often produce better health results than trying to stay in the sauna for longer than feels comfortable. Most of the health benefits from sauna bathing result in the hormetic effect that takes place at the precipice of perspiration. (3)
The moments of discomfort just before a sweat is broken create pivotal changes in the body that begin the cascade of health benefits derived from the heat stress that occurs in sauna.
Rather than pushing oneself to stay in a sauna for long periods of time, it is generally better to take shorter but more frequent saunas that allow more opportunities for the body to engage the necessary mechanisms for the cooling effect to take place. Consider taking 4-7 sauna sessions weekly for 20 minutes for the most positive health benefits. (3)
Contraindications and Warnings About Sauna Use
Sauna use is not for everyone. While it is true that there is significant scientific evidence that suggests that regular sauna use may be beneficial for most people, it is not always suitable.
Dehydration is a serious risk factor for individuals who sauna regularly, and it is necessary to take the proper precautions to ensure that hydration is maintained. Dehydration can lead to very serious conditions and even can be fatal.
Further, if you live with any medical condition and you are unsure if using a sauna is safe for you, always consult a medical practitioner before using a sauna.