Saunas have been used for thousands of years in Finland and nearly a third of all adults there take them regularly.
Many studies have arisen which have been dedicated to spotlighting the exact physiological effects of sauna bathing and their extent. However, despite all the additional and comprehensive research sauna baths have been experiencing in recent years, there remains an unfortunately high amount of misinformation concerning what different saunas can or cannot do for people’s health. Anyone keen on finding out the extensive effects of frequent Finnish sauna sessions will no doubt want to ensure they are getting the advantages that fully immersive experiences provide.
Of particular concern are spurious claims made by some companies about saunas and their potential role in detoxification, weight loss, and addiction. Although it’s true to say that regular saunas can aid weight loss and addiction, it’s best to be careful about what information you read when it comes to associated health claims.
A trusted and key authority in the field is Dr. Jari Laukkanen, cardiologist and professor at the Central Finland Health Care District and University of Jyväskylä. He’s a leading figure in the health benefits associated with the practice and his work helps educate people about the real ways traditional Finnish sauna can help improve their lives.
His 2015 study, aimed at investigating the association between frequent sauna bathing and various cardiovascular issues, found that sauna bathing significantly reduced the risk of sudden cardiac death, fatal cardiovascular and coronary heart disease.
A traditional Finnish sauna experience protects against cardiovascular disease, aids relaxation, sleep, rheumatoid diseases, chronic fatigue and pain syndromes. It also reduces stress, improves exercise performance, muscle recovery and the skin’s moisture barrier properties (you can read more about the health benefits of a sauna here).
Also, and perhaps most crucially, unlike cheaper Infrared Saunas which have seen a growth in popularity in recent times, a traditional Finnish sauna also improves arterial stiffness and protects against Alzheimers, dementia, respiratory disease and pneumonia. It’s no surprise that Finland chooses a traditional sauna 98% of the time.
Interestingly, Finnish saunas actually produce more infrared radiation compared to actual infrared saunas. Hence, any benefits induced through the use of (for example) infrared saunas or Waon therapy are equally applicable to Finnish saunas.
Unfortunately, many people in the UK miss out on such benefits because many of the saunas set up in conventional leisure clubs or swimming pools simply don’t provide the full benefits of the hot evaporating steam needed for what Finnish people call ‘Löyly’ (pronounced Low-Lou).
Regardless of whether you are using an electric heater or a wood burning heater, it is key to make sure the heating up process starts early (usually 30-40 mins before you’d like to get in – sometimes a little longer for a wood burning heater). This allows the sauna time to reach an ideal temperature of between 70°C to 85°C and once the sauna then reaches between 5-10% humidity on the hygrometer the true health benefits begin to kick in. An efficient ventilation system is also crucial for a good sauna, ideally one that exchanges the air 3 to 8 times per hour.
The humidity produced, which is so crucial to creating a great Finnish sauna experience, happens by pouring water on the sauna stones. Also, having the correct stones is vital. Using proper sauna stones is the best way to create the soft pleasant heat of an authentic Finnish sauna and they are typically hard-wearing igneous ones that don’t explode or release gas when they are heated.
How much water you add and how often depends on your own personal preferences and for added relaxation and enjoyment you might want to add in some sauna scents and oils into the water.
Once you feel you have had enough, and for an endorphin high, it’s best to leave the sauna and take a cold bath or shower. You could then take a dip in a nearby lake or roll in fresh snow for a truly authentic Finnish feel. Any of these options will help to rejuvenate the skin, improve blood flow, and speed up recovery time from sore muscles.
Speaking on a podcast produced by Finnmark sauna, recently Dr Al Liikanen of saunologia.fi spoke enthusiastically about what makes a traditional Finnish sauna such a unique experience. He said: “Steam is the essence of a traditional Finnish sauna experience and it’s also what differentiates it from the practice when it’s carried out in other places around the world. It means you can’t hide away the heater or prevent people from using the ladle to add water in order to create the ideal Löyly.
“Several things happen when you create Löyly. It creates a feeling of increased heat, even though the temperature in the sauna stays the same. It’s normally interpreted that the water on our skin is sweat but in fact, only about half of it is sweat. The rest is the water we’ve poured on the heater which then starts to condensate on our skin. When this condensation process begins it holds the same energy it had in the heater and then releases it on our skin.”
Making sure you are well hydrated before you get into a Finnish sauna is highly recommended. Saunas cause the body to lose water so it’s good practice to drink at least one full glass of water prior to going in. Most of all enjoying the experience is important and there are many ways to do so. Receive the benefits alone, or with friends and family.