“Sweat it out.” You’ve undoubtedly been given that suggestion to remedy one ailment or another over the years. The idea of getting any “toxins” out of your body when you’re just not feeling right (or maybe you’re hungover) is a pretty common natural remedy, making sauna bathing a popular tool for rejuvenation and relaxation.
The practice has been around for thousands of years as a way to detoxify the body. The body releases things like lead, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury, which are all carried away by sweat, according to a 2012 review of 50 different studies. Sweat can also eliminate BPA, which is accumulated in your fat cells. Sauna bathing is just a quick and efficient way to force your body to sweat and release all these things it would hold inside otherwise. People who regularly use them have been found to have a lower rate of cardiac death, hypertension, and even dementia.
Even infrared saunas are used for some of the same purposes, where heaters emit infrared light that is then absorbed by the surface of the skin. They operate at lower temperatures with only about 20 percent of the heat going into the air and the other 80 percent being absorbed directly by the body. For anybody who can’t stand being in those hot air filled rooms of a traditional sauna, the infrared version is a tolerable alternative that heats your body’s core by as much as three degrees. From a scientific perspective, the same detoxifying results happen from the body’s core, detoxifying from the inside out. The infrared lights trigger metabolic activity and releasing those same stored toxins through the liver and kidneys.
In the short term, sauna use can promote better sleep, it’s relaxing, can be a useful part of weight loss by releasing water weight (and those toxins), it can relieve sore muscles for active people, soothe joint pain caused by inflammation, and even clear and tighten skin
But what, if anything, is the actual science behind whether or not saunas are actually good for you?
According to research published in the Journal of Human Hypertension and the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, a sauna kept at 164 degrees lowers blood pressure. For the study, researchers observed just over 100 people, all with at least one cardiovascular risk factor, before and after 30-minute sauna sessions. They found the subjects’ systolic blood pressure dropped from 137 to 130 mmHg, while their diastolic pressure dropped from 82 to 75 mmHg, with the diastolic pressure drop lasting 30 minutes after the sauna session. The ability of blood vessels to expand and contract, known as vascular compliance, also improved. Many of these circulatory responses are similar to that of moderate exercise, according to study co-author Dr. Jari Laukkanen. The short and sweet of their findings is that sauna baths can have beneficial effects on People who regularly use them have been found to have a lower rate of cardiac death, hypertension, and even dementia. Translation: saunas are pretty good for your heart.