As far as healthy lifestyle practices go, few are quite so mystifying as that of sauna bathing. There is a long history of heat therapy in cultures all around the world, including Finnish dry saunas, sweat lodges pervasive among native american cultures in North America, and “banya” steam saunas in Russia. Sauna use and its equivalents have been around for thousands of years and are deeply rooted in relaxation and socialization for many cultures.
Popular media has recently fixated on sauna use and has touted the practice as a “longevity hack,” claiming that saunas provide benefits across the health spectrum, ranging from better cardiovascular health to improved complexion. We’ve examined a few of the purported benefits over the years on the podcast (most recently on AMA #42 and a brief note on the five year anniversary post for The Drive), but given the sheer variety of claims, the topic deserves a deeper, more comprehensive look. Does current evidence support sauna as a panacea for human longevity?
Here, we will take a closer look at the strengths and weaknesses of existing evidence for a wide range of alleged benefits before exploring possible mechanisms behind the effects, and ultimately, the practical considerations and recommended protocols for sauna use.