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Mar 29, 2017 02:45PM

Sweat it out: There's more to saunas than you might think

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CTW Features
Sweating in the sauna can benefit the body and mind.
Walking into a small room with triple digit temperatures can seem like an intimidating experience for the uninitiated, but sauna bathing can offer relaxation and stress reduction. And while frequent bathers say it's good for the mind, recent studies indicate it also might be good for the body. While the modern sauna is mainly influenced by the practice in Finland, steam baths have been used all over the world for thousands of years. A basic sauna bath includes roughly 10 to 15 minutes in the sauna followed by a "cool down" phase. This is repeated for two to three rounds. Traditional saunas use hot rocks and water, while infrared saunas use infrared heaters to emit radiant heat. Temperatures typically range from 150 to 184 degrees in a traditional sauna, to 120 to 140 degrees in an infrared sauna.Eero Kilpi, president of the North American Sauna Society, says while sauna use is growing in popularity, it's not always done properly and is more than "just sweating in a box" for 20 minutes. He says sauna use is a personalized experience that involves multiple rounds of heating, showering, and relaxing, all of which culminate into an experience of physical and mental relaxation. "The whole idea is that it's a process, and you do it a few times. When you do it properly, you feel like a million bucks," Kilpi says. Regular sauna bathers say the warming of the muscles and peaceful environment free of distractions can offer stress reduction. Sauna bathing also can help relieve aches and pains, and induce detoxification through sweating. Because of the elevation of the heart rate, sauna use can have an impact similar to cardiovascular exercise. Researchers from the University of Eastern Finland recently found that spending time in a sauna may help keep the heart healthy. Combined with previous studies about "thermal therapies," it was found to benefit people with high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. The same research also discovered that sauna bathing reduced the risk of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia for middle-aged men.Kilpi says it's almost like a "lazy man's exercise" because a person can get some of the benefits of exercise without even having to do anything."Traditional sauna bathing almost gives you a runner's high without running. It gets your endorphins flowing, and it's like a cardiovascular exercise," Kilpi says.While infrared saunas have become increasingly popular in the U.S., Kilpi recommends starting at a traditional sauna for an optimal experience. It should offer a serene environment, and preferably, access to the outdoors with a connection to nature.Kilpi says also to avoid sauna bathing on a full stomach and drink plenty of fluids beforehand as "you're going to sweat." It's natural to feel very thirsty during the process, so plan to drink water a lot more during your cool down periods. At some saunas, there are cold-water pools to dip into between rounds.While sauna bathing is a quiet solo experience for some, it also can be a social activity for others.
"A room in the corner of the gym isn't the same. You can't just spend 10 minutes in there; you're going to feel bad and not get the benefit. You really need to go through the process," Kilpi says.

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