The dry sauna has been used by the Finnish culture for decades for its supposed benefits to health. As a matter of fact, the use of the sauna is so entrenched in the Finnish culture that it has developed in some respects some religious-like undertones with some fairy tales regarding an elf being that lives within all saunas known as “saunatonttu.”
Despite a number of the fact that many of the claims of the benefits of sauna use may seem questionable to some, many are showing some demonstration of merit when placed under the rigorous lens of science. Some of these benefits happen to include cardiovascular system benefits, and better blood sugar control. With the prevalence of heart disease in the U.S. it’s a very good piece of news that the country has started to adopt the practice of sauna bathing.
It may be said that the the benefit most worthy of mention, however, has actually been that of the mind. Millions of people around the world take pharmaceuticals in order to assist them in coping with their depressive symptoms. Perhaps much of this medicating would be found unnecessary if they experienced first hand the benefits of sauna use. When an individual sits down in a sauna and stays for a while the heat causes their body to activate its stress system, and then when they leave the sauna they release substantial amounts of beta-endorphin.
Endorphins are the feel-good substance that act on your body’s endogenous opioid receptors. These receptors numb pain, and are ultimately what keeps gym junkies stepping back into the local fitness center day after day. These natural chemicals assist in the alleviation of those hard feelings of depression. Sauna bathing actually induces the body to release beta-endorphin in more abundant quantities than even most normal forms of exercise. Maybe this explains why Finns have such a enthusiasm for it!
Other ways in which dry sauna use may assist in reducing depression is through amplification of the release of noradrenaline. Noradrenaline is a endogenous peptide in the brain that’s been targeted by a few different pharmaceutical drugs for depression and other brain conditions. It is also released in large quantities during stress from heat, and as a result might suggest that sauna use might be used one day for some similar therapeutic purposes. As mentioned earlier, better insulin control is a benefit of use of the sauna, and some research studies have suggested that this is a component of depression management as well.