With the temperatures dropping lower and our descent into winter fully in motion, now is a great time to discuss saunas! Many cultures around the world integrate saunas and bathhouses into their daily or weekly practices. There are several health benefits to sweating in a hot room and it is both a social and medicinal event for several around the world.
The Russians, Turks, Ancient Romans, Japanese, and Finns all have history with different types of bathhouses/saunas. Each culture has its own ritual- specific temperature ranges that must be maintained, using certain essential oils or plants as a part of the bath experience, using enclosed spaces compared to open pools, etc. Even though each part of the world participates differently, they are all in agreement with the health benefits of steaming.
Simply steaming in a hot bath/ room for 15-30 minutes on a regular basis can improve cardiovascular health, lower hypertension, increase your immunity, and can even improve mental health by uplifting your mood as well as lowering your risk of dementia. Studies have shown that “men who sat in a sauna multiple times per week had a 65 percent lower risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease than those who used them only once a week.” (1).
Decreasing blood pressure is one of the first benefits of utilizing hot temperatures in enclosed spaces. Doctor Jari Laukkanen (2) says that saunas, “Increase body temperature by up to 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit, which can cause blood vessels to widen and help blood flow easier. It also triggers sweating, which removes fluid from the body… It can help relieve physical and mental stress, which is another contributor to hypertension.”
The American Heart Association says that in America, one out of every three adults suffers from high blood pressure. This is probably related to our diet and lack of exercise partnered with the fact that a good majority work desk jobs: “An analysis of 13 studies of sitting time and activity levels found that those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to the risks of dying posed by obesity and smoking” (3).
For this reason, utilizing the bathhouse on a semi-regular basis may be something to look into. Sauna use cannot be used as a replacement for exercise but should be used in conjunction as “both traditional steam saunas and infrared saunas decreased DOMs (delayed onset muscle soreness) and improved exercise recovery” (1). For female athletes trying to get ahead of the curve, “Journal of Human Kinetics (4) found that sitting in the sauna for 30 minutes increases women’s levels of human growth hormone (HGH), which helps our bodies break down fats and build muscle.”
Another study published in the International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health (5) found that when subjects used a sauna every other day for 20 days, they decreased their total cholesterol levels. The researchers concluded that the sauna offered cholesterol benefits similar to what could be expected from moderate-intensity physical exercise but, again, should not be used as a replacement to traditional exercise.
The evidence is there. Whether you are trying to boost your immune system, detox your system of toxins, lose fat, decrease your blood pressure, improve your mood, or simply want to sweat, steaming is the way to go.
There are a couple different bathhouses in the area; depending on the experience you want, the following may be some places to check out.
A Finnish bath house with spa services. They have two locations in the Portland region:
2713 SE 21st Ave, Portland – (503) 236-6850
3525 NE M.L.K. Blvd, Portland – (503) 914-4303
A spa location with a steam room and dry sauna:
234 South East Grand Avenue, Portland, OR 97214 – (503) 946-8659
One of the best bathhouses in the greater Seattle area as they offer a Russian steam room, a Finnish sauna, Turkish hamam, a pool with cold water and a hot tub.
4704 South Oakes Street #104, Tacoma, WA 98409 – (253) 878-8966 or (253)503-1991
A bathhouse similar to Spa Odessa as they also offer a hamam and Japanese bath house style services in addition to massages, facials, and other treatments.
217 9th Ave N, Seattle, WA 98109 – (206) 262-1234