What does a sauna do to your body?•
Posted on February 03 2023
What’s the difference between a sauna and a steam room?
“Saunas use rocks or a closed stove ― wood, electric or gas ― to provide dry heat,” said Dr. Barbara Bawer, a family medicine physician at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. “Think of a desert as the type of feeling you may bring to mind when walking into one.”
The tradition of sauna-bathing has roots in Finland going back thousands of years, but these days you can find saunas in spas, gyms and even homes around the world.
On the other hand, steam rooms are wet, steamy environments. The vibe is more tropical than desert.
“Steam rooms are moist,” said Dr. Brendan Camp of MDCS Dermatology in New York City. “A steam room is heated through boiling water that is pushed into the chamber that makes the air humid. Steam rooms are usually at a lower temperature than saunas, but the air humidity is maxed out so that your body may not generate as much sweat as in a sauna.”
What does a sauna do to your body?“Upon entering a sauna, your body and skin temperature will rise, usually above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, with average sauna temperatures around 160 degrees,” explained Dr. Lauren Penzi, a dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology. “The heat triggers the body to sweat. Your heart rate increases, which consequently increases blood circulation, especially the amount of blood being pumped to your skin.”
The heat of the sauna environment dilates your blood vessels, which enhances blood flow to muscles, joints and organs, and optimizes the functioning of these systems.
“Studies have shown that with regular sauna use, there is more stable epidermal barrier function, an increase in stratum corneum [top skin layer] hydration, a faster recovery of both elevated water loss and skin pH,” Penzi said.
She also pointed to research on saunas that shows benefits including improved energy, pain relief, immune support, skin health, reduced stroke risk and lower all-cause mortality risk.
“The heat has shown the ability to reduce inflammation, relax muscles and decrease blood pressure,” Bawer said. “For individuals with arthritis, heat can penetrate muscle tissue and relieve stiffness of the joints to help make you more limber, decrease inflammation and therefore reduce pain.”
Although studies have also suggested saunas can lower stress and reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, she emphasized that more research is necessary as the specific mechanism and other factors are unclear.
There are also potential adverse effects. You don’t want to spend too much time in a sauna or you could lose too much fluid and become dehydrated.