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Beyond Detox: How to Get Added Health Benefits From Saunas

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People have used saunas and sweat lodges for thousands of years all around the world, and sweating out toxins is only part of the reason.

Deeper health benefits from saunas don’t just lie in detoxification. You can actually boost your immune system, too, by using a few added techniques.

 

This article will tell you the exact steps to take to get added health benefits from saunas.

When you’re in a sauna, blood floods to the surface of your body, pores open, and eventually sweat gets pushed out.

For added health benefits from saunas, the idea is to bolster the ability of your pores to not just open, but close effectively as well. This will boost your circulation and enhance your immune system so it can practice its defenses.

Unfortunately most people who visit saunas neglect some of the key steps that help make this happen.

How to get added health benefits from saunas:

When you sit in the sauna, brush, lightly scratch, or tap the skin on your arms, legs, belly, and back. This will stimulate your pores to open more while you’re in the sauna, and boost the circulation at the surface of your body.

Pretty soon you’ll start sweating, and with all the blood at the surface of your body toxins will come flowing out.

Once you’ve started sweating, you can stay in the sauna as long as you feel comfortable.

 

 

And here’s the most important step:

Immediately after you leave the sauna you have to immerse yourself in cold water!

This will close your pores back up, pull the blood back to your core organs, and reinforce your natural defenses.

This means that you will actually lose less heat when you are out of the sauna, boost your circulation, stay warmer longer, and keep your vital organs happy and functioning at the same time.

 

I know, it sounds totally crazy.

 

Think of it as boot-camp for your immune-system.

It may not sound pleasant, but after a few times you’ll get used to it and you’ll actually feel great afterward, I promise!

This ritual is especially important in the fall and winter months when cold winds can more easily attack your body and you want your immune system to be on guard.

photo source: harviausa.com/

photo source: harviausa.com/

Once you’ve dunked, you can then relax outside of the sauna until you’re ready for another round.

Feel free to enjoy a warm foot-bath or wear cozy socks while you lounge to keep your feet warm.

You might also consider drinking some warm water with a pinch of salt and honey to refurbish your body with electrolytes lost in sweating.

Three rounds are typical for the sauna ritual, but you can increase or reduce this depending on what feels good to you.

 

 

How to mimic a sauna at home:

When time and money are limited you can still train your body’s defenses at home.

To do this, take a very hot shower or bath and brush your skin to stimulate the blood to the surface and induce sweating.

Then immerse yourself in very cold water to bring the blood back to the core.

If you still feel cold you can finish with a quick warm rinse and still gain the sauna benefits.

Another alternative is to try the wet sock treatment, (and yes, despite its name, it feels really good too!)

 

Contraindications:

If you ever feel light-headed, dizzy, or have heart palpitations, please leave the sauna immediately!

People who are frail, prone to dizziness, pregnant, have hypertension or low blood pressure should avoid using the sauna. Growing children would also benefit from avoiding high temperatures.

If you are feeling sick it would be best for you to stay home, rest, and use other natural techniques to kick your immune system into action (click here for some ideas).

Lastly, according to Chinese medicine sweat is associated with blood. Using this logic it would be best to avoid inducing a sweat during menstruation, as you are already losing a lot of blood during that week.

 

A healthy lifestyle is about more than hitting the sauna

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34 Comments

  1. Great info – thanks! How long do you stay in the sauna for each round? And how long in the cold water in between? Thanks again!

    Reply
    • Good questions Joy! You stay in the sauna until you start to sweat, and then as long as you feel comfortable after that. When you plunge in the cold water you can be as quick as you like, but I like to wait about 10-20 seconds to really let my blood return to my core.

      Reply
      • Thanks!

        Reply
      • There’s no way to plunge into a cold bath at my sports club. Will a cold shower do the trick too?

        Reply
          • Okay, wish me luck, heading off the the sauna now!

          • How did your sauna go Lucy? Did you feel good after the cold shower?

        • Shower will do the same as well. In Finland, we have a small cold water bath tube +8 degrees centigrade in most of the swimming halls.. (freezing point 0 centigrade) When I go there after half an hours swimming I do not go to sauna not take any warm shower afterwards.

          Reply
    • It was said once u break a sweat u can stay in as long as you comfortably can. Submerging in cold water should only last a few seconds. If u jump I. An out of a cold pool or use cold water in the shower then you’re good

      Reply
    • one sauna round at around 80 to 90 degrees should last no longer than 15 minutes but leave the sauna earlier if it feels uncomfortable, you feel dizzy or lightheaded. Its best to lie at the top bunk to start off with, then start sitting up, perhaps go to one of the lower benches if you get too hot. When you get out of the sauna it’s good to walk around for a moment and then plunge into a cold shower or plunge pool. The shower should cool you right down – it’s then important to rest wrapped up for at least 10 to 15 minutes. A full sauna is said to be 3 sauna rounds of up to 15 min with a cooling down period of 5 to 10 min and a rest period of about 10 minutes. Have fun

      Reply
      • Great advice Connie, thank you for contributing to the conversation!

        Reply
  2. You don’t “lose blood” during menstruation. The uterus sheds the lining that has built up over the past 2 weeks.

    Reply
    • Actually, you lose lining and blood during mensturation, which is why more women are anemic than men (http://www.webmd.com/women/guide/menstrual-blood-problems-clots-color-and-thickness). Chinese medicine is also more concerned with the whole body than the individual parts, so even though the blood has been localized in the uterus prior to menstruation, the total amount of blood in the body is depleted during and immediately after menstruation, having an impact on how the body feels as a whole. Moreover, because blood is associated with sweat in Chinese medicine, it is not advisable to sweat during menstruation. I hope this helps clarify the process for you. Thanks so much for your comment Kayla!

      Reply
    • Yes all while blood is also flushing itself out to cleanliness for the next cycle. As the blood is lost our body if a healthy body is replenishing with new blood cells.why do u think women crave more sweets during our cycle time

      Reply
  3. The human body excretes the overwhelmingly vast majority (99.8%) of toxins through the urine. The sweating out your toxins thing is an age old myth that needs to die. Really you are just sitting in a hot room dehydrating yourself. You want to detox. Drink water, stay hydrated, eat healthy, and keep peeing.

    Stop perpetuating a myth built on ignorance of human physiology. Please.

    Reply
    • And if you don’t believe me, take it from Harvard Medical School.

      http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/sauna_health_benefits

      “‘All in all, saunas appear safe for the body, but there is little evidence that they have health benefits above and beyond relaxation and a feeling of well-being,’ says Dr. Harvey Simon, editor-in-chief of Harvard Men’s Health Watch.”

      Reply
      • Relaxation and a feeling of well-being sound like great health benefits to me! My skin clears up, glows and is softer after sitting in the sauna, too. I drink plenty of water so have not personally experienced issues with dehydration. All good so far!

        Reply
      • Per your reference from Dr Harvey Simon He mentions Saunas are good for Relaxation and feeling of Well being.. If you look at the Pharmaceutical Industry they make drugs that promote these same things? I don’t know about anyone else but I’d choose to go in a Sauna for 15-20 minutes opposed to taking some pill that will probably open up a Pandoras box full of other crap side effects.. After hitting the weights for an hour, I feel amazing after a sauna session. Furthermore if one is concerned of dehydration it’s actually pretty simple to bring a gallon of water with you in the sauna..So quit posting these senseless articles that Saunas are useless, they have been in use for thousands of years, noone cares about your Western Research articles from Harvard to be honest

        Reply
        • Can’t agree more with you!

          Reply
      • Thanks, neurobiologist. Saunas induce feelings of well-being because one is presumably feeling well – that’s a pretty great endorsement of saunas, & by Harvard Medical School no less. If they induced feeling bad or no feelings at all, then of course one might then question their efficacy.

        Reply
    • While it may be true that people sweat a great deal in a sauna, some up to several liters per hour, this is not necessarily a bad thing if the individual is in good health and stays properly hydrated.
      Some toxins cannot be eliminated through the urine alone. Nicotinimide, for example, is reabsorbed by the renal tubes, but is effectively excreted by the sweat glands on the skin. The body’s largest organ is also an excretory organ helping to rid the body of metabolic waste and toxins (diet or environmental). Part of the emunctories, the skins is one of the primary modes of elimination in the body. The others being the kidneys and urinary, digestive and solid waste through the intestines and gaseous waste respiration through the lungs.
      “Water-soluble exogenous and endogenous toxic/bioactive substances, such as metals, drugs, cytokines, and steroids, can be eliminated in the sweat. Genuis et al. analyzed for approximately 120 various compounds, including toxic elements, and found that many toxic elements appeared to be preferentially excreted through sweat. It is worth noting that some xenobiotics that are rarely excreted in the urine without being metabolized, but can be excreted in the sweat”*
      Xenobiotics are exogenous chemicals, drugs, environmental pollutants, cosmetics, and even components of the diet. The skin plays a significant role in the metabolism and elimination of xenobiotics, endogenous bioactive substances, lipids, and cholesterol.
      “Masuda et al. have also observed that sauna, which increases the skin temperature and induces sweating, can protect against oxidative stress. Moreover, sauna has been found to alleviate symptoms of intoxication and improve lifestyle-related diseases. The beneficial effect of saunas is thought to be related sweat-mediated elimination of toxic substances from the body.”*
      *Zhou, S.-S., Li, D., Zhou, Y.-M., & Cao, J.-M. (2012). The skin function: a factor of anti-metabolic syndrome. Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome, 4, 15. doi:10.1186/1758-5996-4-15

      “Sweating with heat and/or exercise has been viewed throughout the ages, by groups worldwide, as ‘cleansing’.”
      – This review of scientific literature that looked specifically at toxin excretion in sweat found that “Arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury may be excreted in appreciable quantities through the skin, and rates of excretion were reported to match or even exceed urinary excretion in a 24-hour period.” and that “Sweating is not only observed to enhance excretion of the toxic elements of interest in this paper, but also may increase excretion of diverse toxicants, as observed in New York rescue workers, or in particular persistent flame retardants and bisphenol-A.”

      Sears, M. E., Kerr, K. J., & Bray, R. I. (2012). Arsenic, Cadmium, Lead, and Mercury in Sweat: A Systematic Review. Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 2012, 184745. doi:10.1155/2012/184745

      Reply
      • Thankyou for a fine reply to the misleading comments of ‘neurobiologist’. His/her reference to the Harvard study was misleading…such an unsubsubstanted implication would have been laughed out by a peer review in neuro- or any biology – paper. As a neurobilogist, it is amazing to think that he/she could cast aside the mental well-being aspects of saunas.

        Reply
    • The main health effect you get from a sauna are probably long term – the heating up and cooling down cycle requires our blood vessels to constrict and dilate rapidly and regular sauna keeps the vessels supple. Stiff blood vessels are contributing to coronary heart disease in old age. Sauna use also trains the immune system. As long as Dr Simon can’t produce a good randomised controlled trial or other scientific study that shows a lack of effect I’ll err on the side of benefit. Sauna use has also been reported to help with pain and achy joints. I agree that the detox effect is more contentious but there are many other benefits. Of course, sensible use has to be assumed – staying well hydrated is a given, as you would in hot summer temperatures too!

      Reply
  4. I really didn’t know how does saunas boost your immune system!
    Actually, in every winter my immune system goes down and still right now my nose got stuffed and I can’t even breath easily.

    So, I am going to try it.

    Thanks a lot for this useful article.

    Reply
  5. The posts greatly helped! I just started my sauna routines and have to tell you that they take a lot of stress off my shoulders. I started found it because my boyfriend does it at least once a week and his skin got really soft after a few months!

    Reply
    • Fantastic Aldo, I’m glad you’re seeing such great results!

      Reply
  6. I built a sauna tent I sit with my head out of the steam. This allows the use of herbs for a capillary cleanse. in the boil I use chinese cinnamon bark, juniper berries, ginger and in the steam I put spruse and pine needles then I take 200 mcg of b-3 niacin and 500 mcgof niacinamide this gets rid of the winter blahs.

    Reply
  7. Regardless of who is right or wrong about saunas being a detoxification method, the fact is it is a relaxing activity that leaves you feeling very clean and refreshed.

    Reply
  8. I’m in one now. I feel like I’m a part of an awesome tradition now, lol. Can’t wait to get out and have a cold shower. That’s gonna be intense! I just won’t get naked in here, too shy.

    Reply
    • Bailey, you should really be able to go without the internet whilst in a sauna!

      Reply
  9. A few unrelated personal sauna tips from experience not related to health so much and I’m no doctor or scientist. Take them or leave them.

    +Feel Clean.
    I always feel cleaner after a sauna and shower over a shower only, refreshed. Especially after dirty or dusty work.

    +Sauna is a great place to meet people for a chat.
    In ten years no one ever said to me hey bud shut up I am trying to relax. I go to sauna at the local public pool to talk to randoms about random stuff. It’s a social place.

    +Acclimatise to a hotter climate
    Now that I’ve moved to a hotter climate from cold New Zealand to Australia sauna use has surely helped me acclimatise to work outside on hot 45C = 110+F days, in New Zealand a hot day was 30C. I’ve known people here that come from Scotland to work and on hot days 30C+ and they melt, they need more saunas.

    +Defrost in winter, or escape winter for a day.
    Sauna and hot spas are the best thing in winter. I’ve moved to a warmer climate now but it used to be great to sit in the sauna to defrost while being able to see the snow outside, and I actually feel warmer for a couple of days after gym and sauna in winter too as while it’s not snowing here we do still have a winter.

    +Oils Safety; don’t blow yourself up!!!
    One tip if you want to use oils such as Eucalyptus in sauna, remember to shake it up properly with water as it can separate and float on the top!!! Make it combine before putting it onto the hot sauna rocks or you may create a fireball lol, yea these tips are from experience.

    Have been trying to figure out if I will cause myself a mineral deficiency by using sauna after sweating a lot in the gym. Am lately eating a more mineral rich diet including more brown carbs, rice, bread, pasta; And nuts to replace any minerals that may be lost in sauna, am hoping it’s helping to replace any minerals that are lost.

    It seems much easier to get into a clod shower after a sauna rather than before so I’ll usually have a few minutes in the sauna before a cold rinse then a longer time in there.

    +Cool down properly after.
    Having a rest outside after the sauna and a cold shower or three helps to restore the body to normal temperature and to stop sweating.
    – Worst thing in summer is to have a sauna and not cool down properly after. To shower and dress in clean clothes; Then continue sweating when going outside, gross. Being clean in clean clothes and continuing to sweat yuck.

    +A place to Relax.
    As with the gym I find it another place to get away from home and work, not they’re that bad.

    Hope something here may help someone use saunas more, great article.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your contribution Abel! I’m sure others will find it useful

      Reply

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