There all kinds of medically proven benefits to using a sauna. It has been shown how saunas can help your skin, that they can improve performance and fitness, that saunas can help you sleep and even that using a sauna can prevent heart attacks.
But one of the best and most important benefits of the sauna cannot easily be measured with scientific data; it makes you feel great. This is probably the main reason that people in Finland started using saunas centuries ago. People who frequently use saunas report feeling happier and having a generally improved mood.
There is actually a scientific explanation for the way saunas make you feel good. The high temperatures cause your blood vessels to dilate, facilitating an increased circulation which in turn causes increases your heart rate. You give your heart even more of a workout by having a cold shower or jumping in a cold plunge pool after the sauna. The increased heart rate triggers the brain to release certain hormones known to make you feel good such as melatonin and serotonin.
Just having a cold shower at home each morning can actually improve your general mood and well-being, even though it may seem like the last thing you want to do. Saunas have the same effect but are far more enjoyable.
Runners and other sportsmen describe a phenomenon called “runner’s high”. This same high can be achieved by simply using a sauna. The release of dynorphin causes an upregulation and sensitization of mu opioid receptors, which interact with beta-endorphin. 46. This process is what underlies the “runner’s high” and is directly precipitated by the discomfort of physical exercise or use of a sauna. In other words, the greater the discomfort experienced during your workout or sauna, the better the endorphin high will be afterward.
Obviously you shouldn’t stay for too long in the sauna, as that would be silly. Even a few minutes in the sauna could result in a marked improvement in mood and well-being.
Sounds like just the ticket in London’s grisly cold Winter weather.