Hot. Steamy. Sweaty. Saunas aren’t typical therapy sessions, but man do they feel good. That’s right, therapy doesn’t just mean talking to a professional about your feelings. It might be time to take yourself off the proverbial “hot seat” and put yourself on a literal one to ease your stress and anxiety.
Dating back to ancient Greeks, Romans and Mayans, saunas are essentially rooms designed for your body to sweat. Typically set at 158 to 212 degrees Fahrenheit, saunas work their magic by raising skin temperature and heart rate to make the body work to cool itself.
According to Andres Preschel, a University of Miami graduate student working towards his master’s degree in applied physiology, when the body is exposed to such a high degree of heat, it causes a hormetic response. In layman’s terms, this means that the heat triggers the body to respond in a way that results in stress resistance.
All saunas produce similar benefits. According to Healthline, overall benefits of saunas include reducing muscle soreness, reducing stress levels and improving cardiovascular health. However, infrared saunas are different in that the special light penetrates deeper, all the way into the mitocondria of a cell. This helps these vital organelles to multiply and increase resting expenditure. “It’s a controlled environment of chaos that helps teach the body how to handle stress better,” Preschel said.
UM junior Anjuli Sharpley suffers from asthma, but said she noticed decreased symptoms after using the sauna. “I would feel a sense of relief,” she said. “I’d go after working out and would feel very fresh after.”
While saunas can work wonders, they are also the subject of some popular myths. According to Preschel, these hot little rooms really can aid in strengthening and building muscle. The notion that you can “sweat out your toxins,” has no scientific evidence to back it up. In fact, most toxins in the body are removed by the kidneys, livers and intestines. The claim that saunas can help you lose weight is most likely false, as well. While it’s possible to see a fluctuation on the scale after a sauna session, Healthline says it’s from fluid loss, known as “water weight”, not fat.
Before you start sweating, it is important to take proper precautions. Preschel recommends drinking water before, during and after your sauna session to make sure you are properly hydrated and avoid passing out. He also suggested starting small and gradually increasing it up to 20 minutes.
words_ gabrielle lord. design_maria emilia becerra.
This article was published in Distraction’s summer 2021 print issue.