If you’ve ever been to Finland, you know that trips to the sauna are as ritualistic as trips to nail or hair salons are in the US – only its popular among both men and women. Saunas, steam rooms, Arizona rooms. I’ve never really understood the purpose of these special rooms but the Finnish swear by them. In fact, saunas are so ingrained in the Finnish culture that nearly 80% of all households have a sauna built in.
The Finnish Happy Hour
For the Finnish, the sauna is a way to detox, relax, and meet up with friends. Yes, they actually do invite friends over to sauna just like we would invite friends to use the hot tub or pool. Many Finns also attribute their longevity and great health to frequent trips to the sauna. And, there may be some truth to this. After all, Finland was ranked the third healthiest country in the world by Forbes magazine last year.
Although I have seen many of these rooms in many different health clubs, I have never even stepped foot inside one. For years, I thought they were for older people because my mother was a frequent sauna user on her trips to the health club, or spa as she would call it. I also had seen many older people coming and going from those rooms, so naturally I assumed it was an age thing.
However, a few years ago, when I took a business trip to Las Vegas, I learned that saunas and steam rooms are not just for the older generation. On my trip, I stayed at the JW Marriott, which had an unbelievable spa onsite – probably the best spa I have been to in my life. The spa included many typical features, but also included over 30 baths or dipping pools replicated after the ancient Roman baths. It was during my trip to the spa when one of the attendants explained that using a combination of the hot and cold dipping pools, as well as the sauna, was great for all ages (I assumed children were excluded) and could do wonders for my health.
Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot
Although I never tried the pools or sauna (but I did sneak a peak at all of them), I left Las Vegas wondering how beneficial they really are and here’s why. Inside a sauna, the temperature can get as high as 185°F – that’s way hotter than a trip to Florida in August! In that heat, your body temperature can get as high as 104°F within minutes – almost like inducing a severe fever. According to Harvard Health, this extreme air and body temperatures can spell trouble for our blood pressure. Extreme temperatures also can make you feel overheated and dizzy. None of these things sound healthy or like fun to me. So I had to wonder, why do the majority of Finns sauna on a regular basis? Maybe it’s because they lose a pint of sweat on each trip to the sauna – kind of like Bikram yoga, only without clothes.
Although Harvard Health states that saunas appear safe for the body, there is little proof that they provide health benefits beyond relaxation and making you feel good. But, if you are considering trying the sauna for the first time, Harvard Health suggests you follow these precautions:
Harvard Health: Health Precautions for Sauna Users
- Avoid alcohol and medications that may impair sweating and produce overheating before and after your sauna.
- Stay in no more than 15–20 minutes.
- Cool down gradually afterward.
- Drink two to four glasses of cool water after each sauna.
- Don’t sauna when you are ill, and if you feel unwell during your sauna, head for the door.
Well, after what I’ve read and what I’ve seen, I’m still on the fence about the health benefits of the sauna. However, if I do want to lose a quick pound, I’ll know where to go!