By Robbie Thompson ,Finnmark Sauna
It’s New Year and as the pandemic continues many of us are looking at ways to stay as healthy as possible in what looks like it’s shaping up to be another testing 12 months. Since gyms and health club facilities have had to close their doors sporadically across the UK there’s been a surge in home fitness equipment sales and home health, gym and spa construction projects. With so many products on the market, it can be challenging to decipher on which areas to best spend your money to improve your wellbeing. Many might not have even considered the hugely enjoyable practice of Finnish sauna bathing but people who take saunas regularly have both lower rates of cardiovascular disease and fewer problems with blood pressure. There seems something about such regular exposure to hot temperatures which gets the blood moving – much in the same way exercise does. Regular users swear that it gives them a better quality of life and increased energy levels.
The Finns know a thing or two about the numerous health benefits associated with taking regular sauna sessions and the practice hasn’t changed much in thousands of years throughout the country where it all started. At the end of 2020 Finnish sauna culture achieved UNESCO world heritage status joining a unique group by being selected on their Intangible Heritage List, which protects important aspects of cultural heritage worldwide. When you look closer, it’s easy to see why such a decision was made. It’s estimated that there are over 2.3 million saunas in the country.
It’s well-documented that persistently higher levels of stress can be linked to a higher risk of many chronic health issues. They include cardiovascular disease, obesity, depression, and even disorders of the immune system. There’s a number of ways we can deal with our stress levels, many of which are regularly highlighted by health professionals and editors. However, certainly one of the of the less talked about is Finnish sauna bathing. Interestingly, studies have shown that it creates a number of key physiological responses that actively combat stress, especially when the practice is combined with that very Finnish of things – the use of a cold plunge or cold shower (or potentially even better a cold swim in a lake) during and after a session. There are 168,000 lakes in Finland and many of them are used for cold plunging and swimming after and/or between sauna sessions.
The key to this success is the bodies release of endorphins and other naturally occurring opioid-like peptides, and the lowering of cortisol levels (the primary stress hormone) during sauna sessions. Such physiological responses happening over many years of repeated sauna use have been consistently attributed to the fewer occurrences of many chronic health problems in Finnish sauna users.
Getting enough sleep is a crucial way to support the immune system and taking regular Finnish saunas has proved to be a way to achieve more deep and satiating sleep. In a global sauna survey, carried out in 2017, when asked about their sleep quality, over 80% of respondents stated that their sleep quality was significantly improved as a direct result of sauna use. Even more impressively, the effects seemed to generally last for one to two nights after a sauna session. It’s thought that whole-body cooling via sauna-induced peripheral vasodilation might be the cause because body core temperature reduction has been found to have strong correlations with aiding the onset of sleep.
Every time you use a Finnish sauna, you’re helping your body’s defence mechanisms. The heat raises your core temperature by 1°-2°C and all the cells in your body react to the change accordingly. What’s absolutely crucial for the best results is the cooling process which happens between hot and cold – and the continually alternating cycle between the two. It might well be time to take a closer look at incorporating sauna into your health regime.