Being off Finnish descent it’s in my blood to love saunas, even without knowing the exact health benefits of them there’s something quite invigorating about the experience. That process of sweating out all of the bad stuff and then being able to wash it all away feels quite cathartic, like starting properly afresh. Living in the UK I really don’t get to have a sauna as often as I’d ideally want to, so it was a right pleasure having to find a place to go. So where better than the Finnish Church in Rotherhithe in London - who have a private sauna in the building which costs £20 an hour for two people. Perfect.
Saunas have been a thing in Finland for thousands of years, and roughly a third of all adults there have them regularly. Saunas, generally speaking, are a small wooden room where you have a furnace that heats the room to between 70 and 100 degrees celsius, but the heat is dry - unlike a steam room. And people will lose up to a pint of sweat in a short sauna session on average so it’s wise to stay hydrated. So what are the health benefits of sauna?
Perhaps the most well known effect of sauna on our health is of stress relief. Being in warm and quiet space is quite relaxing and with the high temperatures your body releases endorphins. Endorphins make you feel good and come from a natural response in your body to mask pain. Alongside the simulation of endorphins, the saunas heat relaxes muscles and improves circulation, all leading to reducing negative feels. Saunas also boost social interactions as often you use them with friends, family or even strangers in public saunas. This means there’s the added benefit from relationships and interactions with others. There’s even a Finnish documentary called Steam of Life that looks at the tradition of sauna and how it’s used by men in specific as a place where they can speak from the heart without judgement and relax.
With the relaxation of muscles and increased circulation this means saunas are wonderful to have post workout as it means you’re increasing the blood flow to these muscles helping them to recover faster. So next time you’re at the gym it may well be worth hitting the sauna after. The increased blood flow is also fantastic for helping to heal minor bruises and cuts as well as soothing any aches that might be occurring within the body.
The heat can have an effect hours later too. The stimulation of endorphins and the increase in your body temperature mean that when it comes to bed time, when your body temperature and endorphins start to decline it’s much easier to fall asleep.
COLD & FLU RELIEF:
Saunas are also great at helping with colds and flu. German studies have discovered that the incidences of colds and flu reduce significantly when saunas were used amongst the participants in the study. The temperatures mean your body is producing white blood cells more rapidly and this is good as they fight illnesses. The steam, or löyly, also really helps with congestion and can help provide comfort from the symptoms of a stuffed up nose.
Because of the temperature in the sauna your blood vessels near your skin will dialate and your heart has to beat more and the output increases and your heart rate could go up to 120bpm in the sauna. If a sauna is used frequently we can train out heart and improve out cardiac output and our cardiovascular health. You even feel these benefits when you take lots of mini sessions in a bigger sauna session, where you heat up and cool off several times.
While sweating we cleanse our skin and renew our dead skin cells while releasing bacteria out of your sweat ducts and epidermal layer. All of this is shown to improve circulation of the capillaries and keeps your skin in good condition. Some people with skin conditions such a psoriasis sometimes find their symptoms reduce or find relief in the sauna.
HOW DID WE DO?
The sauna was lovely, even if not the same as my grandparents where you’re in the middle of a forest, with the view of the trees, a lake to dip into and no other humans close by. We arrived, went and got ready and sat in there for about 40 mins, taking turns to come out and cool off in the shower just outside. We had lovely conversations, I laid down on the top step and my boyfriend sat on the bottom step as this is the cooler spot. Pro tip - if you’re or especially any kids are finding it hard to breathe in a sauna the best thing to do is to bend over your knees and put your head between your legs as the air is cooler and easier to breathe there.
I could feel my heart having its workout during the process, I felt incredibly clean after having a shower and I felt positively glowing inside and out (I was bright pink) afterward on our way home. That evenings sleep was heavy and relaxed meaning I could start the Monday feeling incredibly refreshed. It’s just reminded me of why I love them and why I want to have them more often, so we will be heading back to the sauna at some point soon.