The Finns swear by it, taking a sauna is practically their national sport. In Germany, on the other hand, many wonder whether the sauna is healthy at all. This is understandable, since alternating between extreme heat and extreme cold is an exceptional situation for the body.
We explain what health benefits the sauna can bring and under what circumstances it is better to avoid it. The most important questions will be answered so that you can soon go to the sauna carefree again.
the essentials in brief
- When done properly, regular sauna sessions can have many health benefits for both mind and body. In addition to a general improvement in well-being, which many sauna-goers state, the heart, lungs and skin in particular benefit from the changing temperatures.
- However, there are also exceptions. In the case of cold symptoms and some chronic illnesses, the sauna is unhealthy and should therefore be avoided.
- In order to get the best out of your health, you have to pay attention to a few things when taking a sauna. Not too long and frequent sauna sessions are just as important as drinking enough.
When is the sauna session healthy and when unhealthy: What you should know
Basically, going to the sauna has many health benefits for body and mind. However, there are also exceptions. If the body is already weak, the sauna can be unhealthy. In the following, the most important questions about the sauna in relation to your health will be answered.
What health benefits does the sauna bring?
Many swear by the sauna and there are good reasons for that. The extreme alternation between heat and cold has positive effects on different areas - mental and physical.
We give you an overview of what a visit to the sauna can be healthy for. However, the positive effects only have an effect with a certain regularity of the sauna sessions. Nothing is done all at once.
|blood pressure||Regular sauna use reduces high blood pressure and thus the risk of a stroke. With a weekly sauna bath by 14 percent, with four to seven sauna sessions by up to 61 percent. This was the result of a Finnish-Austrian study. (1)|
|Heart||The sauna is healthy for the heart. The risk of cardiac arrest, fatal coronary heart disease and fatal cardiovascular disease decreases with regular sauna sessions. (2)|
|lung||Going to the sauna regularly also seems to be healthy for respiratory diseases and the lungs. This reduces both the risk of pneumonia and other respiratory diseases such as asthma and chronic bronchitis. Better blood flow to the mucous membranes also clears the respiratory tract. (3, 4)|
|immune system||The interaction between extreme heat and extreme cold also has a positive effect on the immune system. It strengthens the immune system and reduces, for example, the risk of colds. (5)|
|skin||The heat opens the pores and cleans them. Dead skin cells also come off. The sauna can prevent pee and acne. This generally improves the complexion.|
|General wellbeing||In addition to the results of scientific studies already mentioned, regular sauna-goers also note an improvement in their general well-being. Muscles relax , it helps you fall asleep and headaches can go away. The body is detoxified . Sweating is also good for the psyche.|
The health benefits of a sauna session are numerous, so it seems surprising that a visit to the sauna is not recommended by doctors in terms of conventional medicine.
In Finland, the sauna is equated with a pharmacy for the poor.
However, there are methodological weaknesses in the studies. Further investigations should be carried out on a larger and more heterogeneous group of subjects. (6)
When is the sauna unhealthy and should therefore be avoided?
There are situations where the sauna is unhealthy. Basically, it should be avoided if you have an infection or a cold. Even with some chronic diseases, you should not go to the sauna, as the sauna is unhealthy in these cases.
If you have known illnesses, you should always consult your trusted doctor before you head to the sauna. This allows you to clarify whether the whole thing is harmless for you and could even do you good.
|asthma||It has already been said that the sauna can be healthy for asthmatics. In the case of acute asthma attacks, however, it should be avoided or at least approached with great caution. Cooling can cause acute bronchial constriction, which could trigger an attack. In this case, it is better to take a warm shower. (7)|
|rheumatism||Caution should also be exercised in people with chronic rheumatism. You should only go to the sauna if there is no acute inflammation. In any case, you should first consult the doctor you trust in this situation.|
|inflammation||The sauna should be avoided with inflammation of any kind, as it is often accompanied by fever. If you have a fever, the sauna is a no-go anyway due to the high temperatures.|
|kidney problems||If you have or have ever had problems with your kidneys, you should avoid the sauna. The heat and the loss of fluid put a lot of strain on the kidneys.|
|Coronary heart disease and heart failure||Again, circumstances matter. In any case, a doctor should be consulted beforehand if you suffer from heart disease or heart failure. The sauna session acts like a moderate sports unit for the body. If a moderate sports unit is already driving your pulse up, you should better avoid it and look for another relaxation program.|
|Influenza infections and colds||You should absolutely not go to the sauna with this either! Not only is it not recommended for you personally because your body is already weak and the sauna puts even more strain on it. It's also not good for your fellow combatants, since the high heat transmits germs more quickly.|
|high blood pressure||Be careful when cooling down. The heat does not necessarily raise blood pressure drastically. However, the extreme cooling is. Unfortunately, you have to do without it here and instead take a warm shower after the sauna session. Still nice!|
|dizzy spells||If you experience frequent dizzy spells, it's best not to go to the sauna, as the extreme swings between heat and cold put a lot of strain on your circulatory system and can lead to more dizzy spells. There is a risk of falling. (8th)|
In the cases mentioned, you should refrain from going to the sauna or use it very carefully. If you cannot go to the sauna for health reasons, look for alternatives to increase your well-being.
How often and for how long should you go to the sauna?
Of course, the question also arises as to how often and for how long you should go to the sauna so that it has a positive effect on your mind and body. It goes without saying that three hours of dry heat is not so good for the body. We are therefore giving general tips here on what to look out for when taking a sauna.
The basic rule is not to go to the sauna immediately after eating in order to avoid circulatory problems.
The duration and repetitions of a sauna session depend primarily on how practiced you are in the sauna and what your body has already been able to get used to. (Image source: Estonian Saunas/ Unsplash)
How often and for how long you should go to the sauna also depends on how proficient you are in it. For beginners, temperatures of 50 degrees Celsius are recommended in a horizontal position. A visit to the sauna lasts about two hours, with the sessions in the sweat chamber taking 10 minutes. After the ice-cold cooling , comes the relaxation phase of about 30 minutes.
And as already mentioned, the positive effects only appear with regularity. For beginners, that means going to the sauna at least once a week. (9)
How much should you drink after/during the sauna?
You sweat a lot in the sauna. No wonder with temperatures up to 110 degrees Celsius. The body loses a lot of water - up to a liter in two to three sauna sessions. Under no circumstances should this be left as it is. Instead, the water that the body absolutely needs should be taken in again through drinking.
Sufficient time is also allowed for this during the sauna. As a rule, people do not drink while sitting in the sauna. You concentrate on sweating and moving as little as possible.
At the high temperatures in the sauna, the body loses a lot of water through sweating. Therefore, enough water or tea must be drunk afterwards. (Image Source: Aviavlad / Pixabay)
After cooling down comes the rest phase with pleasantly cozy temperatures. You should drink here and not too little. You can just listen to your body about how thirsty you are.
At least one liter, better more, is recommended in any case in order to give the body back the sweated liquid and to increase well-being in the long term. Water or tea is recommended as a liquid.
Is the sauna compatible with sport and fitness?
When doing sports and fitness, you sweat a lot. Many therefore wonder whether the sauna is still healthy afterwards. A lot of water has already been lost.
Under the right circumstances, exercise and the sauna are not mutually exclusive. There are even people who do light training inside the sauna, at temperatures between 40 - 50 degrees Celsius.
It's exhausting for the body. A time in the sauna even has a similar effect as moderate exercise. (10)
The most important thing is: drink a lot. We have already explained that. If you have done sports or fitness before the sauna, then this resolution applies all the more.
It's also important to listen to your body. If you notice that you are feeling bad, then definitely stop the sauna and get your body used to normal temperatures again and also in this case: drink.
Is the sauna also healthy for pregnant women?
Pregnant women sometimes ask themselves whether the sauna is healthy for them and their unborn children. You don't want to do anything to endanger the babies, that's clear.
Here the spirits are divided. In some places, this is not recommended due to the potential germs in the sauna room. However, the Finns would disagree.
In this country, the opinion is widespread that sauna sessions are harmless for experienced sauna-goers and can even have a positive effect on the pregnancy, as long as it takes an uncomplicated course.
Basically, always listen to your body and don't overdo it. If it no longer feels good in the sauna, stop the sauna session. Do not stay too long in the sauna and reduce to two sauna sessions per unit and per week.
Women who regularly take a sauna do not necessarily have to do without the sauna when they are pregnant. In the case of an uncomplicated course of pregnancy, the sauna can even increase well-being. (Image Source: Pavel Danilyuk / Pexels)
Care should also be taken when cooling down. Slowly shower your legs, arms, back and stomach with a hose to slowly get your body used to the swing.
Pregnant women are advised not to use the sauna in the first trimester, as the unborn child is most sensitive to external influences at this time. The sauna should also be avoided shortly before delivery, since high temperatures can lead to premature contractions. (11)
If these instructions are followed, even experienced pregnant women can enjoy the sauna as usual. However, if you are still unsure, it is better to talk to your gynecologist.
Is the sauna also healthy for children?
The sauna can also be healthy for children. Strengthening the immune system early can make life easier. Just like with pregnant women, there are some special features to consider. Saunas are not recommended for children under the age of three.
First of all, children are never allowed in the sauna unaccompanied. It is also good if the parents already have experience in the sauna and know what to expect. On the one hand physically and mentally. Which child would like to sit still voluntarily for so long and then even in the heat?
You should only spend short periods of time with your child in the hot cabin and not sit on the top bench. If the child feels unwell, get out immediately and always cool the child gently.
In general, all processes should be carried out more gently than with adults. That also means: not in the ice pool. Design breaks according to the needs of the child and make sure to ask them to drink. (12)
Otherwise, nothing stands in the way of going to the sauna with children. The sauna strengthens the immune system and relieves tension – even in children.
In many cases, the sauna increases well-being. In Finland, the sauna has the status of a saint and according to relevant studies, the Finns are always among the happiest people. Is there a connection here?
In our article we have proven for you that the sauna is healthy in many cases and has many advantages. However, there are conditions, such as existing diseases, in which it should be avoided. Taking our advice into account, all that remains for us to say is: Have fun sweating!
- Press release from Assoc. Prof.PD. dr Peter Willeit from the University of Innsbruck. Frequent visits to the sauna reduce the risk of stroke. Innsbruck, 03.05.2018.
- Laukkanen, T.; Khan, H.; Zaccardi, F. et al. Association Between Sauna Bathing and Fatal Cardiovascular and All-Cause Mortality Events. 2015. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8187.
- Kunutsora, K.; Laukkanen, T.; Laukkanen, J. Frequent sauna bathing may reduce the risk of pneumonia in middle-aged Caucasian men: The KIHD prospective cohort study. 2017. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rmed.2017.10.018.
- Hannuksela, ML; Ellahham, S. Benefits and risks of sauna bathing. 2001. DOI: 10.1016/s0002-9343(00)00671-9.
- Ernest, E.; Pecho, E.; Wirz, P.; Saradeth, T. Regular Sauna Bathing and the Incidence of Common Colds. 2009. https://doi.org/10.3109/07853899009148930.
- Kukkonen-Harjula, K.; Kauppinen, K. Health effects and risks of sauna bathing. 2006. DOI: 10.3402/ijch.v65i3.18102.
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- Professional Association of Gynecologists e. V. SAUNA BATHING IS ALLOWED FOR UNCOMPLICATED PREGNANCY. 12/27/2010. https://www.frauenaerzte-im-netz.de.
- Alliance. Healthy at any age. Sauna for children. OJ gesundheitswelt.allianz.de.