Ah, the many claims about the health benefits of saunas. Lose weight, cleanse the body of toxins, relieve arthritis symptoms, improve respiratory problems, etc. Snake oil or scientific fact? You be the judge.
When you are in a sauna your heart rate increases as your body works to cool itself. 300 to 500 calories are burned during a 30-minute sauna session.
True, but in a sauna the heart is the only muscle being exerted. Building and toning muscles from regular exercise gives the equivalent calorie burn with additional toning benefits. For optimal weight loss, do some exercise, then take a sauna afterwards.
"Saunas rid the body of toxins" is a claim made by many sauna sellers, and it is a commonly-held belief among sauna enthusiasts. However, there is no scientific evidence that heavy metals (such as lead and mercury) or other serious toxins are eliminated from the body by sauna use. There is also no evidence that sauna use is useless is this regard. Until more careful study is done, this is an unsubstantiated claim.
This is another dubious claim put forward by many sauna retailers. Taking regular saunas is said to reduce cholesterol without any change in the diet. There is no scientific evidence for this.
Are There Any Real Benefits?
Because of exagerations, one might be tempted to write off all claims of therapeutic value. That would be a mistake -- there are real benefits to taking saunas, and their regular use can be an effective part of a health routine
During a sauna the heart rate increases and the blood vessels dilate. Blood flow to the skin increases and heavy sweating is induced. The nasal passages open allowing sinuses to drain.
The heat experienced in saunas can have real benefits. Arthritic and rheumatic patients, for example, will feel less pain and experience greater joint mobility. Athletes can benefit from a sauna before working out, to induce the joints and muscles to become more flexible, thereby reducing the risk of injury.
Relaxation, The Best Medicine
Perhaps the greatest health benefit of the sauna is the relaxation it creates. Stress is often at the root of many health problems. Saunas are inherently relaxing, and provide a great way to unwind at the end of a day. A sauna before bed promotes deep sleep, which is crucial to revitalize the body.
People with health problems should consult a doctor before using a sauna, but for the vast majority of people, the sauna is safe and beneficial when taken in moderation.