Saunas have a long-standing reputation for their mystical healing properties, particularly in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, where they are widely embraced. In these regions, it is common for people to have saunas installed in their homes or backyards. While saunas have a rich history across Europe, their popularity waned during the 1500s due to the spread of the plague, except in Finland, where the sauna culture thrived. As a result, the sauna has become deeply ingrained in Finnish culture.
Traditional Finnish saunas consist of small wooden rooms where wood is burned for several hours, creating extreme heat that ranges from 160 to 220 degrees Fahrenheit. During a sauna session, which typically lasts between five and thirty minutes, individuals sweat and occasionally pour water on hot rocks to generate steam and increase the sense of temperature. Afterward, they may choose to jump into an ice pool, take a cold shower, or even immerse themselves in fresh snow, depending on their preference.
Despite seeming unusual to outsiders, the sauna experience not only offers enjoyment but also provides numerous health benefits. One alternative to traditional Finnish saunas is the infrared sauna, which uses light to generate heat and operates at lower temperatures. Research suggests that both types of saunas may offer similar health benefits, such as improving conditions like high blood pressure, heart failure, dementia, headaches, type 2 diabetes, and arthritis.
It is important to distinguish saunas from steam rooms, as they differ in their heat sources and resulting effects. Saunas use dry heat, while steam rooms create a humid and steamy environment. Steam rooms are believed to provide additional health benefits due to the high humidity. Saunas, on the other hand, are known for their relaxing properties, which allow individuals to disconnect from the outside world and unwind.
In summary, saunas offer a range of advantages, including heart-healthy effects, potential cognitive benefits, improved blood circulation, relaxation, relief for sore muscles, enhanced skin appearance, temporary water weight loss, and an energizing effect when followed by a cold plunge. Furthermore, saunas represent a cultural experience, with different variations found across various countries and cultures.