Think sweating is gross? Well, it’s also an effective way to detox your body AND your mind. In fact, the health benefits of sweating go beyond the body – through improving cognitive functioning, decreasing stress hormones, and even boosting endorphins.
Perhaps the best way to maximize your body’s sweat potential is by using a sauna. A Finnish proverb says, “The sauna is Finland’s medication… and a poor person’s apothecary.” Having originated in Finland, saunas have been used for over 2,000 years. They have now become a widespread means of promoting relaxation in a stress-free environment.
The Benefits of Saunas
Saunas have a variety of health benefits, some notables ones include:
- Enhancing the detoxification process– Sweating in a sauna is one of the simplest strategies at releasing environment toxins and chemicals that build up over the time of one’s lifespan. For example, sweating in a sauna can be the most powerful aid in helping the body release heavy metal toxins (e.g. mercury and cadmium), urea, bisphenol-A and phthalates. In fact, some heavy metals oftentimes come out in higher concentrations in sweat than other excretion pathways like urine or feces.
- Boosting brain health– Saunas may improve brain function by lowering inflammation and blood pressure, thereby improving vascular function and enhancing feelings of relaxation. In fact, research has even shown a link between heat exposure and BDNF – a protein that stimulates and controls the growth of new neurons in the brain. Saunas have also been shown to cause a massive release of beta-endorphins in the brain, helping the body and mind to adapt to stress, subsequently reducing the risk of depression and other mental disorders. In one study, men who sat in a sauna multiple times per week had a 65% lower risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease than those who used them only once a week.
- Improving Chronic Pain– In addition to deeply heating your tissues, saunas also promote changes in the body that lead to profound improvements in chronic pain. Saunas have been linked to an improvement in pain and symptoms associated with musculoskeletal disorders like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia. One study showed that 44 patients with fibromyalgia showed a reduction in pain between 33% and 77% after the use of an infrared-ray dry sauna.
- Strengthening the lymphatic system and boost longevity- Given that saunas reduce inflammation and improve circulation, by default they help to strengthen your body’s lymphatic system (which plays an integral role in the immune functions of the body, as it is the first line of defense against disease). Research also shows that you can boost your human growth hormone levels (a biochemical that addresses muscle loss and atrophy that occur with age) two-fold by taking two 20-minute sauna sessions (at 176 degrees F) separated by a 30 minute cooling period.
As someone who enjoys reaping the health benefits of saunas, I personally have attempted to make a 15-20 minute sauna session at the gym part of my workout routine. However, my appreciation for saunas truly soared when I had the experience to visit Urban Sweat a few weekends ago.
The Urban Sweat Experience
Urban Sweat is a relaxation center in Cranston, RI that includes five sauna rooms (a black charcoal sauna, eucalyptus steam room, finlandian sauna, himalayan salt grotto, and a yellow turmeric room) that are each designed to restore healing within different parts of the body. For example, a yellow turmeric room heated to 160 degrees has been shown to exhibit antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer properties, while a himalayan salt room can improve respiratory systems.
I had the pleasure of meeting Christine Raffa, who started Urban Sweat in 2012 with a mission to bring the rituals of relaxation and restoration that she observed from the places she traveled to create an environment of health, well-being, and mindfulness. Through Urban Sweat, she has been able to curate her dream of helping people relax, restore, and recover from the challenges of daily life, while simultaneously creating a community of people who aspire to be both physically and mentally well. Urban Sweat spawned from Christine’s initial venture, Raffa Yoga, and the center itself not only includes the saunas and yoga classes, but massage therapy, a spa, and even a place to eat some healthy food to provide a fully immersive experience.
As mentioned, the uniqueness of Urban Sweat stems from the five diverse heated rooms located throughout the 13,000 square foot facility. Each sauna room is designed after a particular location, and for a specific purpose. For example, one of my favorite rooms is a Himalayan Salt Grotto that consists of 18,000 pounds of Himalayan rock salt imported from Pakistan.
Prior to entering, you’ll see a short description of the health benefits associated with the room. For the Himalayan Salt Grotto, the healing properties of Himalayan rock salt date back to 300 BC, where it was recorded that it was used as a healing medicinal bath for muscular tension and bodily anxiety. Himalayan salt also creates a negative ionization in the air, which counteracts electricity created by computers, cell phones, and technology and other modern day devices. Among the other benefits of Himalayan salt areimproving respiratory systems and drainage for allergies, providing essential minerals for skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema, decreasing negative ionization of the lungs, and balancing optimum PH levels of alkalinity and acidity to brain cells.
Another one of my favorite sauna rooms is the yellow turmeric room heated to 160 degrees, which is known to exhibit antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anti-fungal, and anticancer activities. Turmeric has been shown to help prevent against chronic illnesses, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, and allergies. For example, studies in India have shown that the turmeric consumed in India may help explain the low rate of Alzheimer’s disease in that country among people ages 60-80. This particular room is known to aid in liver detoxification, fat metabolism, serve as a natural anti-septic and skin clearer, and reduces healing time for skin abrasions and acne.
I encourage you to check out Urban Sweat for yourself, and observe how the way you feel both physically and mentally changes after you’ve experienced the saunas. Remember that it’s incredibly important to hydrate after sweating, especially at a place like this.
So, what are you waiting for? Start sweating!