Last week in the New York Times was an article on whether taking a sauna has any health benefits? The question was also if we should listen to those marketing and sales pitches, claiming saunas are healthy?!
The article ends by saying ‘As promising as some of the research around saunas is, Dr Lee claims (without more studies) that it’s not totally clear which claims about the health perks of saunas are accurate, and which are exaggerated’.
“I do find a lot of hogwash — a lot of charlatans,” he said.
For me, born and raised in Sweden, part of Scandinavia where the sauna culture is in our ‘cultural backbone’, I find his words a bit harsh! I believe saunas have healthy benefits! Therefore I did some research, and this is a Swedish (my) argument. Maybe Dr Lee would claim that these fall under ‘exaggerated’, but I leave it to you readers to comment or make your own opinion.
Humans have evolved as social creatures. We use friendships as a mechanism to both protect us against external threats and soothe us from internal stress. Referring back to the savannah many millions of years ago, we survived with a tribe around us, to be alone the risk of being killed was much higher. Our brain is hardwired to ‘team up’.
On a large scale, more meaningful connections leads to greater peace and prosperity. For individuals, more meaningful friendships lead to more happiness and better health.
One study showed that people who regularly went to their local pub “had more close friends, felt happier, were more satisfied with their lives, more embedded into their local communities, and more trusting of those around them.”
There is a study consoldating 148 independent studies (308,849 participants) about how physical health impacts people who had heart attacks. The intention was to calculate which factors best predicted their chance of survival one year later. The most important factor turned out to be the number and quality of friendships that they had. That turned out to be more important than factors like smoking, drinking, diet, weight and other aspects of their lifestyle.
The role of the sauna has changed a lot over thousands of years, but one thing that has remained the same across northern Europe - it’s a communal experience. Going to the sauna enables us to connect more deeply with people around us. In fact, one study even claims that men who sweat together are more likely to cooperate together afterwards.
Apparently, women are already good at co-operating.
How about the benefits the sauna gives us when it comes to calming our heart and soul in a warm place, particularly for countries that have a long cold winter and short summer? There are an estimated 3.3 million saunas in Finland, with a population of only 5.3 million. Finnish people often refer to saunas as “a poor man’s pharmacy”, because Finns believe saunas can cure people from spirits and tar. The sauna has historically provided the country with a cure and relief for aching muscles. Saunas increase plasma because of increased blood flow levels to the muscles. This allows you to enjoy faster recovery due to the removal of lactic acid, leading to the dreaded delayed onset of muscle soreness (DOMS.)
Depending on which country you are coming from, social culture takes on different forms - for example, the local pubs in Britain, saunas in Northern Europe or the BBQ (or braai) in South Africa. These are community focal points and the default way in which friends gather.
Saunas definitely have a health benefits in my opinion. Do you agree?
Bonus material.. visiting a Swedish Sauna
It’s probably one of the most out-of-this-world experiences for anyone visiting Sweden or going to a Swedish sauna for the very first time!
It is essentially a practice when a group of friends (both males and females) chug down a few friendly drinks (normally alcohol) at the lakeside, get bare naked, sit for a session in a Swedish sauna, and finally take a naked dip in the water. In this sense, nudity in Sweden is a common practice, and is considered normal, especially among friends.
The Swedish belief of nudity is that if everyone is naked together in a sauna, then no one should feel self-conscious about their body. Public nudity in Sweden is actually protected by law as long as everyone present is comfortable.
It may be tempting to look your fellow sauna-goers up and down (or around) if they’re naked and you’re not—but don’t do that!Though nudity in Sweden is normal, it doesn’t mean you get to ogle at the people around you. It is arguably the most crucial sauna etiquette in Sweden , for a reason.
Sauna with your father-in-law
In the beginning of my relationship with my South African husband. I informed him about our culture; if we are going to be in a serious relationship and get married, it is a custom for you to take a sauna with my father and my brothers. His answer came quickly and decisively ‘there is absolutely NO way I will be naked with your father and brothers’!!
There have been many laughs on our culture differences throughout our years together. Ironically, you can only imagine how amused I was to find there is a sauna in our new home in South Africa!! My father has unfortunately passed away, but I know for sure my two brothers will teach him ‘the Swedish way’ in South Africa.