When it’s freezing cold outside, I love anything that boosts circulation and gets me feeling warmer — like grounding, sauna, steam room, hot baths, sleeping with a hot water bottle, massage, even exercise…. it just feels intuitively right to get your blood flowing.
Sauna increases the circulation of blood all throughout your body — getting the blood pumping through your cardiovascular system, your muscles, your skin, your joints, your brain — so it turns out that routine sauna has many of the same health benefits that exercise does.
So when the weather is too harsh outside, if you can find a local sauna to go to, you can feel confident that you are still boosting your health and longevity even without hitting the treadmill.
And now, there are several recent major medical studies that back this up!
Medical studies have shown that folks who use a sauna two or more times a week have a significantly reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and death, and a reduced risk of all-cause mortality (meaning they died less from all causes put together) than folks who used a sauna once a week or less.
This study was the largest yet, a meta-analysis of all of the medical literature on dry sauna from 2000 to 2017, so it provides definitive proof of the overwhelming health benefits of routine sauna.
Published in Evidence Based Complimentary & Alternative Medicine Journal, April 2018 , researchers review 40 studies that included almost 4,000 patients and found that routine sauna use:
- reduced risk of heart disease, heart attack and sudden cardiac death
- lowered blood pressure
- lower risk of stroke
- reduced risk of dementia and other neurocognitive changes
- reduced risk of pulmonary disease such as asthma and lung infections like influenza
- decrease risk of rheumatologist and immune disorders
- decrease in pain conductions such as arthritis and headaches
- decreased risk of death
- improved quality of life
Looking at cognitive function yielded even more exciting results. Turns out, sauna not only lengthens lifespan but protects against dementia to preserve quality of life, too!
Published in Age and Ageing (Dec 8, 2016) researchers followed more than 2,300 patients for an average of 20.7 years, and found:
- Patients who averaged 4 to 7 trips to the sauna a week were two-thirds less likely to develop dementia over the next 20 years (a 66% decrease in dementia)
- Patients were also two thirds less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimers Disease (AD) during the 20 year follow up (a 65% drop in AD diagnosis)
- This risk reduction was independent of any known risk factors, including body mass, age, smoking status, alcohol consumption or previous heart attack.
The Bottom Line:
Sauna users enjoyed a 66% reduction in dementia risk of all types (including Alzheimer’s) from this very easy-to-enjoy lifestyle intervention.
It turns out, the circulation boost from sauna preserves memory function and protects us from developing memory diseases. So, not only does sauna help you live longer (avoiding heart disease and all-cause mortality) but it also helps you avoid dementia and memory loss disease to enjoy that longer life more!
Why is sauna so good?
Sauna raises whole body temperature which activates metabolic changes like a neutralizing inflammation, reducing oxidative stress, increase nitric oxide bioavailability, increased insulin sensitivity, and improved vasodilation.
In other words, raising the core body temperature and increasing circulation makes the benefits of sauna very similar to the benefits of exercise. So increased time in the sauna helps increase vascular perfusion of the brain, increasing endothelial function and reducing inflammation. And not just in your brain, but throughout your entire body, too, which is one of the reasons it’s so cardioprotective as well.
So if you can’t exercise (or, ahem, like me, don’t particularly love to do it in the cold winter months) then one good alternative is sauna.
Sauna is also a great idea for disabled or mobility-limited folks, who might find getting outside to exercise more challenging. Almost anyone can sauna and enjoy very similar longevity benefits as if they exercised!
Often, the folks that could benefit from exercise the most (like those recovering from cancer, those with metabolic and weight issues, those with high stress loads, those who must sit for long periods of time at work, those caretaking of others with very limited time away, those recovering from trauma, etc…) may find it hardest to participate in regular exercise.
So the answer to this is routine relaxing in a sauna to raise basal metabolic temperatures.
If you know someone who doesn’t have time to exercise routinely, someone who had mobility issues, someone who doesn’t have the energy to exercise, someone who is in recovery and doesn’t have the strength for exercise, someone who lives in such a cold harsh environment they are not likely to be outside for long… let them know about the healing benefits of sauna to supplement during the times when exercise is harder to come by.
Three times a week all winter long I wake up and ask myself: is it warm enough to go on a nice long brisk walk for exercise outside? Is it warm enough to go ground outside? And if the answer is a resounding “no!” on both counts, then I know where I’m headed… to my local YMCA that has a sauna that I can have unlimited access to 7 days a week. Making it one of the least expensive holistic therapies I know of… less expensive than chiropractic care, less expensive than massage, less expensive than acupuncture.
As an added bonus, I can use my cool down period to get outside in the fresh air and get grounded. Let me show you how:
- I head to my local YMCA and sit in the sauna for 15 minutes or so, to reap very similar benefits to exercising, but without the risk of slipping on dangerous ice or feeling my lungs burn from the frigidly cold air
- Then immediately after my sauna session, I am warm enough to embrace grounding outside for a few blessed moments while I cool down.
Sauna to boost circulatory health and grounding to boost conductive health… that’s your win-win winter health care routine.
Interested in giving sauna a try?
- The recommended routine is to sauna at least once a week and up to three times a week, for a time period of at least 5 minutes and a maximum of 20 minutes.
- Hydrate before, during and after sauna.
- Be sure to cool down afterwards by grounding for several minutes in the fresh air outside.
- Touch the ground, or cement, the sidewalk, concrete, a tree, a bush, or a rock to get grounded. Take five minutes to breathe deeply, let your core body temperature normalize, and then dive back into your day knowing you powerfully boosted your health.
- Don’t sauna if you have a fever, an active inflammatory condition like a rash or hives, or are intoxicated, and ask your physician if sauna is right for you if you have a serious cardiac issue or other health issues.
Sauna + grounding is so pleasurable it just might be one health care routine you want to keep up all year long, well past when winter’s chill is over!
PS — I get asked all the time which type of sauna is better for your health: traditional sauna or far-infrared sauna.
From a medical point of view, most of the research that has been conducted has been using traditional (hot stone or wood burning) types of saunas in countries around the world, like Finland, where sauna is a cultural norm and part of a weekly, if not daily, household routine.
But while the most research has been done on traditional sauna, some promising newer research has shown similar positive benefits from far-infrared saunas. For example, in the largest medical literature review to date looking at thousands of sauna participants in over 40 different studies many of the studies on cardiovascular disease and congestive heart failure used far-infrared saunas instead of traditional sauna.
Traditional saunas have been used for over two thousand years, so if you want to go with the safest, most researched option, stick with traditional sauna.
However, advocates for the newer, far-infrared saunas would point out that while far-infrared saunas haven’t been around as long, they require less heat to provide the same results because far-infrared waves penetrate more deeply into tissues. They are also generally less expensive and make the possibility of investing in an at-home sauna more accessible.
So if you find a traditional sauna is too uncomfortably hot for you, you might prefer to choose an infrared sauna, which reaches temperatures typically about 70 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than traditional saunas reach (roughly 120 degrees Fahrenheit for far-infrared as opposed to 190 degrees Fahrenheit for traditional sauna.)
But the best answer of all is that whatever sauna you are more likely to use routinely, and whichever one you have access to, is the best sauna of all!