Increasingly people in the United States are increasingly following the Scandinavian tradition of using saunas, as they have many health benefits including for improving pain associated with musculoskeletal diseases (Nurmikko and Hietaharju, 1992), and improve mood (Janssen 2016). Saunas can also improve longevity by improvement in cardiovascular function (T. Laukkanen 2018; Lee 2018), stroke prevention (Kunutsor 2018, Laukkanen and Kunutsor 2019), optimization of neurocognitive disease such as Alzheimer’s (Laukkanen 2017), and reduced risk of respiratory diseases (Kunutsor, 2017). This article will discuss some of these Saunas health benefits in depth, how to optimize your sauna use, and some local and home sauna options.
Cardiovascular Benefits of Saunas
Several studies suggest heart benefits to sauna – and one of the most compelling large scale studies is a randomized controlled trial investigated the combined impact of cardiorespiratory fitness and frequency of sauna bathing on the risk of sudden cardiac death in 2291 men aged 42-61 years. The results suggest that participants with frequent (more than twice weekly) sauna baths alone had a 29% lower chance of fatal cardiovascular incidents. When combined with aerobic exercise, frequent sauna users had a whopping 69% lower chance of fatal cardiovascular incidents. Participants who used a sauna for 19 minutes or more had a 53% lower risk compared to those who did only 11 minutes or less!
Making the Most of Your Sauna Visit
If you are considering adding sauna therapy to your health routine, be sure to talk to your doctor first to make sure it is safe for you specifically for example if you already struggle with dehydration or have issues with blood pressure shifts.
According to sauna researcher Dr. Ashley Mason who I spoke to at BrainMind (a private community of top brain scientists, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists collaborating on innovation in brain science), research would suggest for optimization that 3 times per week around 20 minutes minimum at about 160 degrees minimum is ideal. If you have a cold plunge or regular pool or shower, following each session with a two minute cool down can feel nice and be helpful to reset and boost immune system.
What to bring and how to prepare for sauna use:
- Water Important to hydrate before and after using the sauna because you sweat a lot while inside. Avoid alcohol consumption before or during sauna use as this can be dehydrating
- Towel Whether you’re using the towel at a facility, or your own towel at a home sauna, this can be helpful to sit on to keep the sauna relatively clean as you sweat, and also to help dry yourself off afterwards.
- Buddy Can be more motivating and fun to share sauna with a friend or family member, and either meditate together while you’re in there or just chat and catch up.
Local Sauna and Home Sauna Options
For those living near our clinic in Woodside, California, there are several options for saunas. Here are some recommended local ones I have tried and enjoyed:
- Immersion Spa – this is a Korean Spa in Palo Alto that offers sauna, steam room, hot tub, cold plunge, and salt room. Note this is a nude spa separated by gender, so men and women, so great for a ladies night but not for a date night. Day passes are around $40. Massages and body scrubs can also be booked for additional fee. For more info can visit: https://immersionspa.com/
- Archimedes Banya – very large Russian bath house with several saunas of varying heat levels, cold plunge, steam room and rooftop yoga at certain times in San Francisco that includes both men and women and is clothing optional. Day passes are around $80 last I checked. Venik Platza (form of Russian massages using additional method of tree leaves and steam), body scrub and Russian food from cafe are available for purchase:
- Bay Club – Club with locations including Redwood City and Burlingame with monthly membership that has gym, sauna, steam-room, hot tub, sports facilities, sports classes and more. Restaurant also present inside.
For those looking to purchase a home sauna, there are numerous options available of varying sizes and prices – from 1-2 person to 15 person. From talking to and using my friends’ saunas as I contemplate getting my own, I recommend finding a sauna that has “WiFi” capability such that you can turn it on easily from your mobile device inside your house to start pre-heating it to lower the barrier to use and optimize the temperature during your usage, since it can take some time to heat up to goal. Types of home saunas include:
- Traditional Finnish Sauna: These saunas are typically made of wood and use a traditional heater to produce steam. Because of the steam and in general, can reach higher temperatures compared to infrared saunas, and tend to be more expensive compared to infrared saunas also. Can be found in a variety of sizes to fit any home or backyard if you have an extension cord.
- Infrared Sauna: These saunas use infrared heaters to produce heat, which makes them generally more affordable compared to Finnish saunas. However, they often can’t go as high in temperature compared to traditional finnish sauna. These also come in a variety of sizes and can be indoor or outdoor depending on the model and your available electrical connection. My friend with an infrared sauna uses this model from Clear light sanctuary. Note that the “red light therapy” benefits as far as skin goes only happen if you’re about 6 inches away from the red light, so the benefits from that perspective are not as present sadly.
- Portable Sauna: For those with limited space or a smaller budget, a portable sauna may be a good option. These saunas are designed to be easy to set up and take down and can be installed in any room of the home, or can come in the form of a heated sleeping bag.
No matter which type of sauna you choose, it is important to consult with a professional to ensure that it is installed correctly and safely.
Saunas offer numerous health benefits, including improving cardiovascular function, elevating mood and relaxing muscles. With regular use, saunas can be a valuable tool for improving overall health and well-being.
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Maia Mossé, MD, December, 2023