Are Saunas Good For Your Health?

If you asked anybody born and raised in Scandinavia, you would likely hear nothing but praise over the health benefits experienced from stepping into a sauna. Pekka Niemi, a 54-year-old from Helsinki, tells the BBC, "Finns say the sauna is a poor man's pharmacy." Rich or poor, 99 percent of Finns take at least one sauna session a week. That's an average of 52 sessions spent sweating in an enclosed room a year! Can that be healthy?

As it turns out, the countries in the North may be on to something. A sauna promotes both relaxation and pain relief, says Healthline. Saunas traditionally use dry heat, causing the enclosed room to heat up to 195°F. The heat relaxes your muscles, including the ones in your face and neck. The heat can also make your body less receptive to pain, and give you a feeling of bliss. And once the body is relaxed, the mind often tends to become more at ease as well.

Another benefit of a trip to the sauna is temporary weight loss, though we need to be clear that it is water weight dropped and not fat. The average sauna user will shed a pint of sweat during their time sitting in the sauna. So it's understandable why you might be feeling joyfully less "weighed down" for a few hours post-sauna session.

Sauna trips have been shown to increase white blood cell counts

The time you spend in a sauna relaxing and sweating out excess water could also be making you more ready for battle as well — at least against harmful bacteria and viruses. According to a study mentioned in Women's Health, athletes who spent 15 minutes in the sauna showed an immediate increase in their white blood cell count. Those white blood cells are both necessary and helpful soldiers the body needs to fight off any threatening intruders.

All of these benefits are starting to make a sweat session in an overheated box look pretty desirable right about now. But there are a few things to consider first. To make sure you enjoy a sauna safely, avoid alcohol before, during, and after sauna use. Don't stay in longer than 20 minutes, and remember to drink enough water afterwards to avoid dehydration.

The Finns may view the sauna as the poor man's pharmacy. And after hearing all its health benefits, we have to say it's not just for the poor. It appears everyone from all walks of life can reap the positive health effects a sauna has to offer. Just make sure you have a glass of water waiting nearby!