The science-backed benefits of sauna for your health and wellness.

Thermotherapy has a wealth of reported benefits. We look at the ones that have been proven by scientific study, and some may surprise you.


A sauna heater in the foreground with coals on top, and a woman in a towel sitting on a sauna bench in the background, slightly out of focus. You can't see her head, but you can infer from the position of her body that she is looking the window which is to the left.

Saunas have been cherished for centuries across diverse cultures, not only for their relaxation and social aspects but also for their potential health advantages. In this blog post, we will delve into the proven benefits of saunas and how this simple practice can significantly contribute to your overall well-being.

1. Detoxification and Cleansing: Sweating Out Toxins

Saunas have a remarkable ability to aid in detoxification by promoting sweating, one of the body’s natural ways of eliminating toxins. As you sit in a sauna, your body temperature rises, causing you to sweat profusely. Sweat contains impurities like heavy metals and toxins, and through sweating, your body flushes them out.

A study published in the Archives of Environmental and Contamination Toxicology (2001) demonstrated that sweating significantly helps eliminate persistent organic pollutants, confirming the detoxifying effect of sauna use.  The data collected also indicated that different types of sauna may be more effective for eliminating specific toxins – for example, using an Infrared sauna was cited as being slightly more efficient at expelling contaminants such as bismuth, cadmium, chromium, mercury, and uranium.  The same study advised that people who by the nature of their occupations are exposed to toxic elements, such as firefighters, may be advised to undertake induced sweating regularly.

2. Improved Circulation and Heart Health: Warming Up for Wellness

When you use a sauna the heat causes your blood vessels to dilate. This expansion helps more blood flow through your body, reaching all the different parts like your muscles and organs. Think of it as opening up wider lanes on a road, allowing more cars (blood) to pass through smoothly. With increased blood flow, your heart gets a little workout because it has to pump harder to move all that blood around. Over time, this gentle ‘exercise’ for your heart in the sauna can help make it stronger, just like how exercising your muscles at the gym makes them stronger.

A study published in the Journal of Human Hypertension (2015) revealed that regular sauna use is associated with a reduced risk of fatal cardiovascular events.

3. Stress Relief and Relaxation: Melt the Stress Away

The gentle heat in the sauna makes your muscles relax and helps your body release endorphins – the brain’s happy chemicals. These endorphins are essentially your body’s natural stress-busters.  On top of that, as you start to unwind and feel the calmness, your mind also gets a break from all the worries and anxieties. Basically, it’s a timeout for your brain.

Saunas offer a peaceful, quiet atmosphere where you can take a breather, forget about your stresses, and simply relax. So, sitting in a sauna for a little while can be like giving your mind and body a warm, comforting hug, helping you feel more relaxed and at ease.

4. Pain Relief and Muscle Relaxation: Easing Aches and Pains

The dilation of your blood vessels in a sauna increases blood flow to your muscles. The increased oxygen and nutrients to your muscles that this brings can help ease any aches or pains you might have. The endorphins released by sauna use are also your body’s natural painkillers, making you feel more comfortable and relaxed. There is a wealth of anecdotal evidence to support the sauna’s role in chronic pain management, including a number of celebrities using their platforms to advocate the treatment (most notably Lady Gaga’s public sharing of how her infrared sauna alleviates the fibromyalgia caused by a years-old hip injury).

A study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (2009) demonstrated that sauna bathing effectively reduces pain and enhances the quality of life for chronic pain patients.

5. Enhanced Skin Health: Glow Inside Out

Your skin is the one organ (yes, it’s an organ) of your body that see the most contact with the environment. Although good hygiene habits will help to cleanse your skin to a degree, much gets collected inside your pores. Trapped inside your pores, these pollutants can lead to blemishes and other skin problems.

Sauna use helps to open up your skin’s tiny pores. This opening of pores allows all the gunk and impurities that might be hiding in your skin to be pushed out through your sweat. Much like giving your skin a deep cleaning session. As a result, your skin can look clearer and healthier because it’s free from these impurities. Plus, the improved blood circulation in a sauna can make your skin glow, making it look even more healthy.

6. Boosted Immune System: Your Shield Against Illness

Saunas can be like a training session for your immune system. When you use a sauna, your body’s internal temperature rises, mimicking a mild fever. Fever is a signal to your white blood cells to gear up and get ready to fight. This heat stress from the sauna stimulates the production of more white blood cells, making your immune system stronger and more prepared to fight off any germs or infections that might come your way. It’s the equivalent of giving your immune system a power-up, making it more efficient and ready to protect you.

An International Journal of Biometeorology (2003) study highlighted the potential of sauna use in improving immune function.

7. Weight Management and Metabolism: A Warm Approach to Fitness

Though not a substitute for regular exercise and a healthy diet, saunas can complement weight management efforts. The increased heart rate and caloric burn during a sauna session can aid in calorie expenditure similar to light to moderate physical activity, supporting weight management. Plus, the warmth in the sauna makes you sweat, and sweating can temporarily make you lose water weight.

However, it’s important to remember that the weight you lose in a sauna is mostly water, not fat. So, saunas can be a nice addition to a healthy diet and exercise routine for managing weight, but they’re not a magic solution. They’re like a helpful sidekick on your journey to a healthier you.

8. Improved Lung Function: Breathe Easier in the Sauna

If you consider your lungs as a set of balloons, the warm and humid air in a sauna makes it easier for these “lung balloons” to fill up with air. Think of it as making them more flexible and stretchy. This helps your lungs expand and take in more oxygen, giving them what is effectively a good stretch and exercise. When your lungs can take in more oxygen, it’s easier for your body to use that oxygen to keep everything running smoothly. So, being in a sauna is like giving your lungs a little workout and helping them be more efficient at their job of getting oxygen to your body.

The positive impacts on respiratory health that sauna sessions provide can be especially helpful for individuals with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Final Thoughts

Incorporating regular sauna sessions into your routine can be a delightful way to enhance your overall well-being. Saunas offer proven benefits, from relaxation and detoxification to improved cardiovascular health and pain relief. It’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional, especially if you have underlying health conditions, before integrating any new health regimen.

Remember, beyond the physical advantages, the sauna experience is about self-care and relaxation, providing a warm, comforting space for rejuvenation. So, embrace the soothing embrace of a sauna for a healthier, happier you!

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References:

  • Genuis, S. J., & Birkholz, D. (2011). Blood, urine, and sweat (BUS) study: monitoring and elimination of bioaccumulated toxic elements. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, 61(2), 344-357.
  • Lim, Gregory B.  (2015). Sauna bathing associated with reduced cardiovascular mortality. Journal of Human Hypertension
  • Laukkanen, T., Khan, H., Zaccardi, F., & Laukkanen, J. A. (2015). Association Between Sauna Bathing and Fatal Cardiovascular and All-Cause Mortality Events. JAMA Internal Medicine, 175(4), 542-548.
  • Masuda, A., Miyata, M., Kihara, T., Minagoe, S., Tei, C. (2005). Repeated sauna therapy reduces urinary 8-epi-prostaglandin F2alpha. The Journal of Clinical Hypertension, 7(10), 592-596.
  • Beever, R. (2009). The effects of repeated thermal therapy on quality of life in patients with type II diabetes mellitus. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 15(11), 125-128.
  • Hannuksela, M. L., & Ellahham, S. (2001). Benefits and risks of sauna bathing. The American Journal of Medicine, 110(2), 118-126.
  • Crinnion, W. J. (2007). Sauna as a valuable clinical tool for cardiovascular, autoimmune, toxicant-induced and other chronic health problems. Alternative Medicine Review, 12(4), 314-320.
A headshot of Chris Hands against a black background
Article by: Chris Hands

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