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It’s no surprise that the main reason people buy saunas is the same reason people buy any leisure product: relaxation. But the sauna offers a well-documented distinction that draws customers interested in more than kicking back. “The main difference is the sauna has so many additional health benefits that you don’t get in another leisure product,” says Mark Raisenan, general manager at Finnleo. “Customers first come in seeking it for a place to get warm or a place to relax, and they come away amazed at all the health benefits.””Sauna use helps you sleep better, helps with pain in the joints and overall is good for relaxation,” says Beatrix Von Ungern-Sternberg, owner of Scandia Manufacturing.

While these are compelling benefits, the one that ultimately sells the most saunas is this: sweating detoxifies the body. “Most people don’t realize how many heavy metals and other toxins are in our bodies, whether it be plant chemicals in our food or metals that are in animal products,” Raisenan says. “They don’t get out unless you sweat them out.”

Here’s another fact: regular sauna users are less likely to catch a common cold or flu.

“Remember when, I think about 10 years ago, they were talking about the bird flu?” Von Ungern-Sternberg says. “The government of Finland required people to use a sauna to clean their bodies to stay away from it.”Studies have shown frequent sauna use builds antibodies and white blood cell count. This is because the traditional sauna temperature, 170 degrees Fahrenheit, is hot enough to artificially induce a fever. Doing that multiple times a week is like giving your immune system a workout.

For people already suffering from a bad head cold or clogged sinuses, Raisenan recommends putting a little eucalyptus in the water before tossing it on the rocks. “You get almost instant relief,” he says.

As amazing as all that is, for Von Ungern-Sternberg, who grew up around saunas, their best feature is their timelessness.

“People have been taking sauna for over 2,000 years,” she says. “The Finns used to use saunas as their hospital, so if anybody got sick, they would take a sauna to help recover. If they had a fever, they would go to the sauna. They would give birth in the sauna. It’s so hot that bacteria cannot live. The cleanest part of a household was the sauna.”

NO “KIHD”-ING

The biggest news about the health benefits from saunas is coming from an ongoing study at the University of Eastern Finland. The Kuopio Ishaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor (KIHD) Study, as it’s called, has medically examined over 2,000 middle-aged men in Finland since 1984 and produced over 500 peer-reviewed academic articles. The study is meant to record trends in cardiovascular health, but some researchers found a correlation between frequent sauna use, a cultural staple in Finland, and improved health.

One such finding: people who use a sauna four to seven times a week are 50 percent less at risk for elevated blood pressure than people who use a sauna once a week.

“The sweat is the part that is the most important,” Von Ungern-Sternberg says. “It is so hot in the sauna, it gives you a cardiovascular workout.”

Here’s another finding: People who use a sauna four to seven times a week are 66 percent less likely to get dementia than people who use a sauna once a week. This finding is the most pertinent to Raisenan, who encourages his dealers to use it when selling saunas.

“It’s such a modern malady that I think everyone knows somebody pretty close to them affected by it,” he says.

The KIHD Study is expected to continue into the 2020s, and more research into the correlation of frequent sauna use and improved health is expected to come out during that time.

“It’s amazing when you look at how sauna is so health and wellness driven,” Raisenan says. “We could talk for hours on some of the things that are coming out.”

By Kathryn Howard, Aqua Magazine, April, 2018

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