Is sitting in a sauna actually good for you? There are five possible health benefits, according to recent research summarized in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

  1. May reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure and stroke
  2. May reduce the risk of certain types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease
  3. May alleviate common respiratory ailments like asthma
  4. May improve pain for people with conditions like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia
  5. May help reduce stress and improve quality of life

As for how sauna use confers these health benefits, researchers have proposed a variety of possible mechanisms. For example, it’s been suggested that sitting in a sauna may help by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, improving blood vessel function and beneficially activating different parts of the nervous system.

Some reports indicate that sauna bathing may improve sleep and ease certain skin conditions like psoriasis. More research will help us understand all the ways saunas are health-promoting and who could benefit from regular use.

Is the sauna safe for me?

Most researchers and doctors agree that sauna bathing is safe and well-tolerated in most people when utilized properly, but it’s not right for everyone. You should always check with your personal health care provider before using a sauna for the first time, especially if you have any medical conditions, are taking any prescription medications, are pregnant or are under medical supervision.

Research suggests that sauna use is not safe for people with certain health conditions, including:

  • Unstable angina pectoris
  • Recent myocardial infarction
  • Severe aortic stenosis

Getting the most out of your sauna sessions

If your doctor gives you the go-ahead to use a sauna, the following tips should help you get the most out of it while also maximizing your safety and comfort:

  • Aim for four to seven 20-minute sessions per week in a sauna heated to around 80° to 100° Celsius (176° to 212° Fahrenheit). This frequency has been shown in research to offer the most health benefits—but even just 2 to 3 times a week can be beneficial!
  • Build up your tolerance slowly. Start with 5 to 10 minute sessions and gradually increase your sitting time until you can stay for about 15-20 minutes.
  • Drink a glass or two of water and take a rinse-off shower before and after using the sauna.
  • Wear light, loose-fitting clothing or a towel.
  • If you begin to feel dizzy, sleepy, lightheaded, faint, ill or uneasy, leave the sauna immediately.
  • Always make sure someone knows you are in the sauna.

Southern Illinois University School of Medicine
Mayo Clinic Proceedings: Jari A. Laukkanen, MD, PhD, Tanjaniina Laukkanen, MSc, Setor K. Kunutsor, MD, PhD

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