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Lung Function is Vital to Health

Healthy lungs are vital to our body’s performance and our overall well-being. Yet, our bodies are exposed to a variety of first and second-hand irritants that can affect our lung performance. Between a variety of contributors in the environment, exposure to different gasses, chemicals, tobacco use, particles, and other things like those can cause stress on your lungs and increase your risk of different kinds of cancers, according to experts at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. So could sitting in a sauna help to keep your lungs healthy or perhaps even improve them? It is known that there are a variety of health benefits to regular sauna sits through a variety of medical studies that have been done around the world for years. Sweating for health benefits dates as far back as about 3,000 years ago, to the Mayans of Central America who used sweat houses, according to an article by Harvard Health Publications. The article went on to report that today there are more than one million saunas in use in the United States alone. Furthermore, Finnish Sauna sits have been documented as a type of physical therapy method for respiratory diseases for more than one hundred years, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.

The Physical Effects of Sauna Sits

The effects a sauna has on the body are similar no matter how the sauna is heated. There is a wide variety of sauna types and styles for use including electrically heated, wood-burning, a steam room, and a far-infrared sauna. In infrared saunas, special lamps use light waves to heat a person’s body instead of the entire room. Infrared saunas are one of the few mediums that provide infrared heat in a controlled environment. Infrared heat is an invisible electromagnetic wave with a wavelength longer than that of visible light that helps improve blood flow. Typically in a traditional sauna, the surrounding air is heated up to about 185 degrees, which then heats your body. However, in infrared saunas, the temperature only reaches about 140 degrees. Infrared rays penetrate your body more deeply, which causes your body to start sweating at a lower temperature than in a traditional sauna. According to a 2009 review of evidence done by the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, researchers found that infrared saunas produce a lighter demand on the cardiovascular system, so they in turn might be beneficial to people who lead a more sedentary life due to medical issues. When you sit in a sauna, your internal body temperature rises slowly, while your skin temperature can reach 104 degrees Fahrenheit within minutes. Furthermore, your pulse rate jumps by 30% or more. When your body is in a sauna your heart rate increases and your blood vessels widen, which increases circulation.

Dry Heat Treatment for Your Lungs

Your body- and your lungs- experience profound effects from the dry heat and air inside a sauna. Two studies, published by the International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), focused on the effects of infrared saunas on patients suffering from COPD. In the first study, the results from patients after receiving four weeks of repeated sauna sits showed improvements in the speed of air coming out of their lungs, compared to the control group that received their usual medical treatment. The second study published by the Journal of Cardiology focused on a group of male, ex-smoker COPD patients. Following their four weeks of treatment of sauna sessions, patients showed an improvement in increased exercise length following sauna exposure along with improvement in oxygen saturation during workouts. Furthermore, patients reported decreased pulmonary artery pressures during exercise and improved overall symptom scores.

Sauna Sits and the Severity of Cold Symptoms

Anyone who has experienced the seasonal common cold knows that your lungs and your breathing are hindered by congestion and coughing. In 2010, a randomized controlled trial that focused on common cold sufferers in Germany was reported in the Medical Journal of Australia. The study looked at two groups of people with the common cold with the focus group breathing in “hot dry” sauna air versus the control group that breathed in “cool dry” room temperature air while wearing a face mask. The treatment group sat for three minutes each day in winter clothes in a Finish sauna over three days. Only on day two of the study did patients in the treatment group show a decrease in symptom severity compared to the control group. Fewer doses of cold medications were given to the treatment group on day one compared to the control group. Saunas are a relaxing option for anyone looking for alternative treatment for healthy lung function. If you are new to sauna sits, it is recommended that first-time users spend no more than five and 10 minutes. As you get more and more used to the heat, you can slowly increase the time you spend in a sauna to up to about 20 minutes. It is important to remember these safety tips when using a Sauna:

  • Do not spend more than 15 to 20 minutes in a sauna
  • Cool down slowly after use.
  • Stay hydrated- it is recommended you drink two to four glasses of water after each sauna sit.
  • Avoid alcohol before and after sauna sits.

Resources: “Sauna Health Benefits: Are Saunas Healthy or Harmful?”, Harvard Health Publishing, published, March 2014, updated August 2017;  Laitinen LA, Lindqvist A, Heino M., “Lungs and Ventilation in Sauna”, U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, 1988; H. Kikuchi, N. Shiozawa, S. Takata, K. Ashida, and F. Mitsunobu, “Effect of repeated waon therapy on exercise tolerance and pulmonary function in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a pilot controlled clinical trial,” International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, vol. 9, pp. 9–15, 2014.; M. Umehara, A. Yamaguchi, S. Itakura et al., “Repeated Waon therapy improves pulmonary hypertension during exercise in patients with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” Journal of Cardiology, vol. 51, no. 2, pp. 106–113, 2008; U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health; D. Pach, B. Knöchel, R. Lüdtke, K. Wruck, S. N. Willich, and C. M. Witt, “Visiting a sauna: Does inhaling hot dry air reduce common cold symptoms? A randomized controlled trial,” Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 193, no. 11-12, pp. 730–734, 2010.