Mental & physical wellbeing. Why regular sauna use should be incorporated into your healthy lifestyle plans in 2021

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18 Jan

Authentic Finnish sauna use is accredited with a wide range of health benefits which continue to be extensively researched. Two weeks before moving into 2021, Finnish sauna culture was chosen to be added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. It highlights the prominence of a sauna tradition that has an integral role in supporting the wellbeing of Finns. Having headed into the New Year and another nationwide lockdown in the U.K., it's increasingly important to take care of our physical and mental health. Alongside a balanced and nutritious diet, regular exercise, sufficient rest and socialising to the restrictions’ allowed extent, sauna bathing is a well-proven method to support a healthy lifestyle. In order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, businesses including gyms and health clubs have been closed again, many are working from home and have limited social interaction with friends and family. Individuals have been presented with feelings of isolation and difficulties when it comes to maintaining healthy habits, which in turn support the immune system and our mental wellbeing. Traditional Finnish sauna bathing can significantly contribute to improving both our psychological and physiological health.

Finnish Sauna to destress

The pandemic has caused uncertainty and stress in many peoples lives. It is important to take some time to care for our mental well-being and find ways to relax and release stress, even more so during challenging times. Chronic stress puts a strain on the body and can this way have a negative impact on our overall wellbeing. Positively, some widely quoted health benefits of sauna bathing are namely relaxation and stress reduction. Regular sauna sessions have been reported to decrease stress by reducing cortisol levels [1]. The sauna provides a peaceful space to detach from the hectic nature of everyday life and is one of the most common ways to destress for Finns. The relaxing and meditative-like effect of a single sauna session has also been reported to enhance sleep quality [2]. Improved sleep and decreased stress levels are closely connected to our physical well-being and cognitive performance, whereas continuous lack of sleep and high-stress levels can take a toll on them. These can also have a negative impact on our immune system [3].

 

Links to Physical Health and the Immune System

Among other physiological health benefits, regular sauna bathing is linked to a decreased risk in respiratory diseases and low-degree inflammatory levels [1]. Researcher Tanjaniina Laukkanen and Professor Jari Laukkanen from the University of Eastern-Finland write in their book “Sauna, Body & Mind” (2020) that a single, half an hour sauna session can raise the heart rate to similar levels as moderate exercise, such as brisk walking [4]. People who sauna bathe on a regular basis also have fewer flu symptoms and their inflammatory values are slightly lower than those of others, according to Dr Jari Laukkanen. However, Dr Laukkanen emphasises that further research is needed to clarify whether the above result from sauna bathing alone or if it is the combination of sauna bathing together with other healthy habits [5].


Sauna and COVID-19

The International Sauna Association (ISA) states that despite the beneficial effects that regular sauna sessions can have on our well-being and coping with the pandemic, it is important to remember that using the sauna is not recommended if you have COVID-19 or experience symptoms of the virus that are making you feel unwell. Sauna won’t have a direct impact on healing the virus and could put the body under further stress because of the heat and fluid loss. However, regular sauna sessions are still encouraged in the prevention of getting unwell and remain central in supporting an overall healthy lifestyle. It is safe to say that incorporating a sauna session to the weekly schedule can provide our bodies and minds with an excellent way to cope with the current situation. Even one bathing session can be a much-needed moment of relaxation, serenity and calmness which can help us stay positive.



References:

[1] Laukkanen JA., Laukkanen T. & Kunutsor SK (2018) ‘Cardiovascular and other health
benefits of sauna bathing: a review of the evidence’ Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Vol 93,
pp.1111–1121. Available at: https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(18)30275-1/fulltext

[2] Hussain, J, Greaves, R, and Cohen, M (2019) ‘A hot topic for health: Results of the
Global Sauna Survey’ Complementary Therapies in Medicine (44) pp. 223-234. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31126560

[3] Bryant, P.A., Trinder, J. & Curtis, N. (2004) ‘Sick and Tired: Does Sleep have a Vital Role in the Immune System’ Nature Reviews: Immunology. Vol 4, pp.457-467. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/nri1369/boxes/bx3


[4] Laukkanen, T. & Laukkanen, J. (2020) Sauna, Keho ja Mieli (Translated: ‘Sauna, Body & the Mind’). Docendo: Jyvaskyla.


[5] Tikkanen, T. (2019) 6 Yllattavaa terveysfaktaa saunomisesta- Taman takia sinkunkin kannattaisi saunoa vahintaan nelja kertaa viikossa. Yle Akuutti. Viewed: 13/01/2020. < https://yle.fi/aihe/artikkeli/2019/06/18/6-yllattavaa-terveysfaktaa-saunomisesta-taman-vuoksi-sinunkin-kannattaisi>