The funny thing is that getting hot is very good for us. We lose toxins when we sweat and we relax as the heat relaxes the muscles and removes our stress. The Finns and Native Americans know this and have done for hundreds of years.
Sauna is a Finnish word for the wood cabin where they gathered to enjoy the heat, each other’s company and the heat; The Sweat Lodge has some of the same health benefits even though its focus was more spiritual rather than being performed for our physical health.
And health was definitely the reason for going to steam baths in Turkey and all-round the Mediterranean. For example, so deeply was it integrated in daily life in Turkey that we call the steam baths Turkish Baths.
Why does heat have such a powerful effect?
There are several answers; some of them obvious and known for hundreds and even thousands of years and others are coming out from leading edge research on life extension, the immune system and weight loss.
The first one – relaxation!
This is the first reaction I have whether it is when coming inside my home from a cold journey out to get some shopping – relaxing into the warmth of my home. It is a similar reaction when we relax into a hot bath or shower.
And relaxation is not just a feeling you have; it is a pattern of muscular tension right through the body. And as this tension melts away your blood circulation (and lymph circulation) improves. And when your circulation improves then just about every aspect of your health gets better!
Even Chronic Fatigue Syndrome patients were found in a Japanese study to benefit from regular sauna use. Was it the Serotonin secreted in the brain by the delicious feelings of warmth or was it the direct effects on their muscles? Nobody knows but now we have an effective treatment to use with this stubborn and chronic disease.
And it is not just the heat that is producing these health benefits. Some of the comes from the sweating produced by the high temperatures.
What’s So Good About the Sweating?
Sweating is one of the major ways that the body uses to get rid of toxins and Saunas and Steam rooms produce effortless sweating – unlike Exercise! Many different toxins leave the body without any effort at all.
Toxins such as BPAs – the initials stand for Bisphenol Plastic and there are various formulas for this type of plastic and they are labelled as BPA, BPB, BPC and so on right along to…BPS and beyond. Many consumers object to plastic bottles and food containers made of these materials and rejoice if they find one that states on its label “BPA free”
Sometimes this is simply because the manufacturer has substituted BPA with a similar plastic like BPS! Aware of this problem many environmentally aware folk are choosing to use glass bottles and containers more often.
Other Plasticky Toxins too like Phthalates
There’s lots of plastics. They are very useful and versatile materials but they can leech into any food they contain or touch and a group called Phthalates is rather worrying because the effect they can have on the body is like the effect of our own hormones so avoiding plastic wrap and other soft plastics many be a sensible precaution.
This is one of the most hated type of pollutant by Environmental activists. The initials stand for polychlorinated biphenyls and they were banned many years ago. They were found in high amounts in fish and government action followed to stop their use.The problem is that they are very widespread in the environment and take a very long time to degrade and decay. If they are burned they produce an even worse kind of pollutant called dioxins.
And yes we sweat this and other dangerous poisons out of our body in a sauna or during exercise.
Not Everybody Can Sauna
Pregnancy, illness and intoxication are the 3 most important barriers to enjoying the benefits of Sauna – if at all unsure check with your Physician.
People who cannot sweat may overheat rather rapidly so great care must be taken if that applies to you. Many of us go through periods often lasting years when we simply do not sweat. This is not quite an absolute ban on sauna, but it does mean that we need a “Sauna Buddy” to help protect us if we pass out or become giddy. Temperature and time are also important – if we are unsure of our sauna suitability then we sip water through the day to keep hydrated and do not go into very hot saunas or Steam rooms and only stay there for very short periods at first.
You need to go by your own comfort level and if a couple of minutes is your limit then don’t fight that. Just leave happily and repeat when you feel ready to. As you acclimatise to the heat, expect to be able to stay for longer. Sweating returns too. For years I did not sweat and one day I simply did. My body was ready I guess.
And It’s Not Just Sauna
After all it is the heat that matters and you can sweat while…
1. Doing exercise
2. Taking a Hot Bath with or without Epsom salts
3. Hot showers work too
4. And Yoga in a Hot Room
So if you don’t live near a Sauna or Steam Room or Turkish Bath you can still get the health benefits with exercise or Hot baths. Of course you may be able to get your own home sauna – either an all singing all dancing version built into your bathroom or spare bedroom or a modular and portable version which folds away into a cupboard.
I hope this has got your imagination working and you can figure out how to enjoy these health enhancements for yourself. Whether you choose the option of more exercise and hot baths or a low cost portable sauna or you to manage to install a wooden cabin style sauna – I’d love to hear about your way of doing things and how you benefit.
Image attribution Thanks for the sauna picture from the Wiki