The sweet sweat of saunas

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There’s a reason Scandinavians are healthier than we are, and live longer than we do.

Well, there are many reasons, but in the area of health, they have long enjoyed a habit that is great for all sorts of things.

It’s simple, too, and just as available right here.

Just find a fitness club anywhere in Kootenai County, or maybe a spa like Slick Rock in Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls.

We’re talking about a sauna, and particularly the dry sauna that Swedes, Finns, Danes and Norwegians use pretty much on a daily basis.

Most Americans who cook a few minutes in a sauna only do it to calm down and relieve some stress from their work days.

But saunas can offer you so much more than that.

Check out a snippet of this story in Time magazine, which was titled: “Why Saunas Are Ridiculously Good for You.”

This wasn’t a lifestyle piece, or a story about how to find the proper wood to build a home addition.

It was about health, pure and simple.

“A visit to the sauna is more than just relaxing; it seems to have real heart and cardiovascular benefits, as well,” wrote Time correspondent Amanda MacMillan.

“A group of researchers from the University of Eastern Finland, who previously found that people who regularly used saunas had lower rates of hypertension, cardiac death and dementia compared to infrequent users, now find in a new study that sauna bathing can have a direct effect on blood pressure, heart rate and vascular health.”

MacMillan immediately noted that the study was, in scientific language, merely observational rather than a direct measurement of cause and effect.

So the same researchers took on the challenge of finding out if spending time in a sauna did offer these various health benefits — and that the results were provable.

OK, time out from the University of Eastern Finland for a minute...

I need to make a confession.

Several years ago, when I was regularly running long distances (and competing in marathons), I would do a sauna session routinely after a workout.

It felt fantastic, and I was in the best shape of my life.

Then I stopped, and I can’t even remember why.

BUT NOW, I’m getting back to that glow.

It’s delightful.

So...

Back to our researchers in Eastern Finland: They recruited 102 people and monitored them before and after a 30-minute sauna session to see what happened.

MacMillan wrote: “The new research, published in the Journal of Human Hypertension and the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, showed that time in a hot, dry sauna reduced people’s systolic blood pressure from 137 to 130 mmHg, and their diastolic pressure from 82 to 75 mmHg.

“The sauna sessions also improved people’s vascular compliance: a measure of blood vessels’ ability to expand and contract with changing pressure.”

This is big stuff — perhaps life-altering news.

And of course, there is still that fantastic easing of stress which stalks so many of us.

Go ahead, find a gym or a spa that has a sauna. You’ll feel great and do some serious good for your body.

•••

Steve Cameron is a columnist for The Press.

Email: scameron@cdapress.com.

Facebook: BrandNewDayCDAPress.

Twitter: @BrandNewDayCDA

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