The power of sweat and how saunas can be good for you

It might not always feel pleasant, but perspiring — whether from saunas or from exercise — is becoming a crucial element of wellness.

You know the feeling. You are running, cycling or even doing a vigorous yoga class and your skin starts to prickle with perspiration.

Before too long, the signs you are really putting in start to show as sweat trickles down your body, creating tell-tale wet patches on your clothes.

It might feel a bit uncomfortable but sweating is a good thing.

It is how our bodies stop us from overheating — the sweat on our skin evaporates, cooling us down.

But there are also other benefits from sweating — and they are being recognised as more people embark on a wellness journey towards better health and wellbeing.

Why getting sweaty is good for you

Sweating during exercise usually means you are reaching a level that is good for your cardiovascular health, with evidence suggesting fitter people sweat sooner and more profusely, notes Michigan State University.

The Australian government recommends doing physical activity every day and lists jogging, star jumps and sit-ups as examples of vigorous activities that will make you out of breath and sweaty.

“Physical activity can have instant, lasting health benefits.

“Whatever your age, you should be active most days, preferably every day,” the Department of Health and Aged Care website says.

More energy, improved quality of life, better physical and mental health and improved blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels are some of the health benefits of moving more and sitting less, it says.

You might have heard that sweat removes significant levels of toxins from the body — but Michigan State University notes this is “often exaggerated”, because sweat is mostly made up of water.

“The liver and kidneys do most of the body’s detoxification,” it notes.

How saunas can benefit health

Exercise physiologist and nutritionist Paul Taylor says saunas — which are seeing a fresh wave of followers — mimic the effect of exercise on the body.

“If you’re in a sauna for a reasonable amount of time, there are changes in your cardiovascular system,” Paul says.

“The volume of blood pumped out from the heart can increase by 60 to 70 per cent. This is great because it’s training your cardiovascular system to become more efficient.”

Research shows saunas may be linked to better health.

A Finnish study of more than 2000 middle-aged men found the risk of sudden cardiac death was 22 per cent lower for those who had two to three sauna bathing sessions a week, and 63 per cent lower for those who had four to seven sauna sessions a week, compared to men who only had one session a week.

The study also found sauna bathing four to seven times a week was linked to a 40 per cent lower risk of dying from any cause, compared to only one session a week.

What’s more, sauna bathing may also help with other conditions, including skin complaints, rheumatic disease, headaches and flu, according to research.

How heat therapy works

While different people sweat at different rates and the super fit tend to start sweating soon after exercising, Paul says more profuse sweating means you’re having a greater effect on your hormonal and cardiovascular systems.

It’s known as hormetic therapy, based on the theory that hormetic stress, or exposure to small doses of certain stressors such as intense heat and cold, can be of great benefit to health.

Saunas alone can provide hormetic stress.

The history of saunas

Heat therapy isn’t new, from the ancient Roman baths to the Japanese onsen, Russian banya and Native American sweat lodges.

The Scandinavians, particularly the Finns, took to the traditional sauna before the growth of infrared saunas we are now seeing across the US and Australia, according to the head of Found Space sauna manufacturers Alex Tyson.

“I started using a sauna because I saw the benefits being experienced by regular sauna users, which included better sleep, improved workout recovery and reduced inflammation, but found on top of that, it gives me 30 minutes a day of peace and quiet, which is one of the most powerful things you can do for your health,” Alex says.

“As well as increasing the heart rate and lowering the toxic burden on the body, it’s really relaxing.”

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Written by Catherine Lambert.