1. Saunas may rid your body of toxins.
It appears that sweating does more than just help cool your core body temperature. Research indicates that sweating promotes natural detoxification. A 2016 study published in BioMed Research International found that inducing sweating may help the body eliminate organochlorinated pesticides (OCPs), which we’re regularly exposed to via food, water, and air as a part of living in this world. This is a good thing because OCPs have been demonstrated to negatively impact metabolic functions and likely promote disease processes.
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health also saw induced sweating as a way to help the body rid itself of Bisphenol A (BPA), a known endocrine disruptor. In both of these studies, the toxins were most highly detected in sweat, when compared to their presence in other bodily fluids like urine and blood.
This makes intuitive sense to me. If you’ve ever eaten a hot pepper and found sweat pouring down your temples, you know that your body is well equipped to sweat out some chemicals it would prefer to be without.
2. Saunas may be good for people undergoing cancer treatments.
A 2002 study published in the Annals of Oncology suggested that hyperthermia — or the raising of body temperature above normal — should be further researched for its ability to shrink tumors and promote cancer cell death.
Temperatures between 104-111° F (40-44° C) are toxic to cells and appear to be especially impactful against cancerous tumors, enhancing the success of radiotherapy and certain chemo drugs. In reviewing studies, the researchers found that hyperthermia alone raised complete overall response rates among cancer patients by 13%.
While I’m pleasantly surprised by the cancer finding, it also makes sense to me that mimicking our body’s natural defense against pathogens — fever — would help us defend against tumors as well.
3. Saunas may help improve heart health.
Exposure to high temperatures and induced sweating appears to have benefits to your heart. A 2015 Finnish study published in JAMA Internal Medicine analyzed a population study among 2,315 middle-aged adults examined at baseline between 1984 and 1989, investigating the association between frequency and duration of sauna use and heart disease.
With the data collected from a 21-year follow-up, researchers concluded that increased frequency of sauna use was associated with a lower risk of sudden cardiac death (SCD), fatal coronary heart disease (CHD), fatal cardiovascular disease (CVD), and all-cause mortality. Although, more research was needed to determine why that was. Still, the data showed that regular sauna use was associated with nearly a 50% reduction in heart-related deaths! Seems like sweating is sweet for your ticker!
Other studies indicate that the heart health benefit of saunas may be due to their ability to improve vascular endothelial function — or open up arteries among those at risk for plaque blockages — and lower high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease.
4. The benefits of saunas include alleviating pain and reducing inflammation.
A 2018 study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology evaluated the effects of saunas on the blood inflammation marker, C-reactive protein (CRP), among 2,084 men (42-60 years) without acute or chronic inflammation. When potential confounding factors were addressed — like BMI, smoking status, age, alcohol use, and exercise habits — the researchers found a significant inverse association between how often the men used a sauna and their CRP levels.
Saunas may also help alleviate pain through its relaxation effects on the body. A 2011 study among 44 females with fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) — a chronic condition characterized by pain and tenderness — found that sauna therapy and underwater exercise improved their reported quality of life, pain, and FMS symptoms. The patients underwent sauna therapy once per day for three days a week, and completed underwater exercises two days per week, for a total of 12 weeks.
5. Sauna bathing may lengthen your lifespan.
As sauna usage can benefit heart health and lower inflammation, it may also lead to increased longevity. Not only do saunas help lower the risk of heart disease, but they also appear to reduce the risk of all-cause mortality.
Some hypothesize that it’s the heat activation of the “longevity gene,” FOXO3, that can be attributed to this effect of sauna usage. FOXO3 and its variants have been linked to a lower risk for age-related diseases, fewer bone fractures, and a lower prevalence of heart disease and cancer.
6. Regular sauna use may reduce memory loss.
In a 2017 study published in the journal Age and Ageing, researchers looked at repeated heat exposure from saunas and the effects on memory disease risk. Researchers analyzed the data from the 21-year follow-up of the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease population-based prospective cohort study of 2,315 healthy middle-aged men.
They found that moderate to high frequency of sauna use was associated with lower dementia and Alzheimer’s disease risk. Men who used a sauna four to seven times per week experienced a lower risk for memory disease compared to men who used it one to three times per week.
7. Sauna baths may improve health and well-being in diabetics.
The impact of repeated thermal therapy, by way of sauna baths, on the reported quality of life among people with type 2 diabetes was analyzed in a 2010 study. Participants underwent a far-infrared sauna bath three times per week, for 20-minute sessions, over a period of three months. At the end, they completed a questionnaire regarding their health and quality of life. Participants reported feeling that their physical health, general health, and social functioning improved and that levels of stress and fatigue decreased.
Other studies have found sauna benefits such as improved vascular endothelial function, improving circulation, preventing blood clots, and lowering high blood pressure, which are all risk factors for type 2 diabetes.
8. Enjoying a sauna bath may improve physical fitness.
Enjoying a sauna bath after a hard workout may help your body recover faster and perform better. A 2007 study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport followed six male distance runners who completed three weeks of post-exercise sauna bathing and three weeks of control training, with a three-week washout period between. During the sauna bathing period, the men took a humid 90° F (32° C) sauna bath for 30-35 minutes, approximately 13-15 times during the three weeks.
An exercise performance test via a 15-minute treadmill run showed how their running endurance was affected. Their plasma, red blood cell, and total blood volumes were measured. Compared to control, sauna use increased run time to exhaustion by 32%. For a distance runner, that’s a huge improvement.
Blood volume measurements also increased post-sauna. The researchers concluded that sauna usage could improve running endurance, likely due to its ability to increase blood volume.
9. Sauna-induced sweating may promote weight loss.
Using a sauna may help promote healthy weight loss through the natural process of sweating and the triggering of other physiological changes that boost body fat reduction.
In a Binghamton University study, participants were exposed to a 110° F (43° C) infrared sauna for 45 minutes per day, three times per week, for 16 weeks. The effects on body temperature and long-term body weight changes were measured. Participants were responsible for their own compliance to the exposure and ranged from completing 12 sessions to 45 sessions. Those who used the sauna the most lost more body fat, with up to a four percent reduction over four months.
Here’s a cool finding from that study: People who went to the sauna later in the day lost a significantly higher amount of body fat than those who went in the morning. The researchers concluded that raising core body temperature causes human growth hormone production and blood sugar levels to rise, leading to a greater loss of body fat. So if you want to try sweating to lose weight, don’t schedule it first thing in the morning.
10. Dry saunas can benefit your skin.
Infrared saunas may have the added beauty benefit of making your skin look and feel better. Research indicates that infrared radiation may reduce wrinkles and improve the texture of photo-aged skin (that is, skin aged by sunlight or tanning beds) by increasing collagen and elastin in a safe and non-invasive way. Regular sauna usage can also benefit the moisture of the skin and possibly reduce the incidence of acne.
However, some skin issues could become exacerbated by saunas. Rosacea, eczema, and psoriasis have had mixed results in relation to sauna use. If you have one of these conditions, consult with a doctor before use. And if you do decide to use a sauna, try to limit your sauna use to 15 minutes and see how your skin reacts.