Here’s Why You Should Sweat In a Sauna This Winter

5 ways relaxing in the steam can benefit your health

Arielle Weg |

What’s better in winter than some alone time in a steamy sauna? Pretty much nothing. But as you sit there sweating all of your stresses away, you might wonder whether the sweltering heat is actually healthy. Fortunately, a swath of research suggests that it is. For starters, sauna bathing might help you break out of the winter doldrums. “Some small studies have shown improvement in some symptoms of depression with sauna use, including hunger, pain, and ability to relax,” says Dr Sagar Shah, a clinical instructor in the department of family and community medicine at the University of Wisconsin.

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Still, it’s important to remember a few safety tips. The risk of skin damage increases after 20 minutes of intense heat, so spend just 15 to 20 minutes steaming at a time, recommends Dr. Shah. Drink a glass of water before you step in inside to reduce your risk of dehydration. If you start feeling abdominal discomfort, lightheadedness, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, headache or muscle cramping, it’s time to cut your session short. And be sure to call your doctor if you experience chest pain from your sauna experience, adds Dr. Shah. Finally, skip the sauna altogether if you take anti-seizure medication or if you have pulmonary hypertension.

All good? Consider the following benefits:

Saunas Can Protect Your Brain

Perspiring in steamy temps might help you preserve your memory. In a study published in the journal Age and Ageing, men who used a sauna multiple times a week had a lower risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. “More robust studies would be needed to strengthen this association, but I wonder if this is partly related to improved blood flow to the brain with sauna therapy,” says Dr. Shah. One possible explanation is that saunas improve the lining of the blood vessels, allowing for more productive blood flow to organs like the heart and brain.

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Saunas Help You Recover Faster

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a speedier recovery after leg day? In a study from Finland, researchers looked at bathing in a far-infrared sauna, which uses infrared light in addition to heat to help penetrate body cells more efficiently. Recovery after strength and endurance training sessions was improved with 30 minutes in a far-infrared sauna. This might be because infrared heat penetrates to the neuromuscular system, which somehow aids recovery, the researchers suggest.

Saunas Can Reduce Pain Intensity

“A really convincing study of patients with chronic pain showed a faster rate of return to work, reduced pain scores and reduced anger in patients who used the sauna,” says Dr. Shah. “Some of these effects lasted for two years after finishing sauna therapy.” Saunas may help headache sufferers, in particular. One study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine examined the use of saunas to help relieve pain and treat the symptoms of chronic tension-type headache, frequent headaches that occur more than 15 days per month. After eight weeks of sauna exposure, participants reported a significant improvement in headache intensity.

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Saunas Can Lower Your Cholesterol

Next time your doctor recommends lowering your cholesterol, consider hitting the sauna for some extra help. One study from Poland found that when subjects used a sauna every other day, they decreased their total cholesterol. Scientists concluded that the sauna’s benefits on participants’ cholesterol profiles is similar to the benefits that could be expected from moderate-intensity physical exercise.

Saunas Are Good For Your Heart

Heart disease is the leading cause of death, according to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, but regular roasting in a sauna can help keep your heart healthy and extend your life, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Though the exact reason is unknown, long term sauna bathing has been associated with better cardiovascular and circulatory functions, lower blood pressure, and enhanced function in the heart’s left ventricle. “We used to think that saunas are dangerous for people with heart problems like arrhythmias, but now we know they not only don’t increase the incidence of arrhythmias, but they actually decrease the most concerning type of abnormal rhythms of the heart, ventricular arrhythmias,” says Dr. Shah.

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