“Finns say the sauna is a poor man’s pharmacy,” says Pekka Niemi, a 54-year-old from Helsinki, who spends about three hours a day in the sauna, six days a week. “If a sick person is not cured by tar, spirits or sauna, then they will die,” he adds, quoting a Finnish proverb. (“Spirits” here means strong alcohol, while tar was historically used as an antiseptic.)
The primary benefits of a sauna are that it induces sweating. Although most of us go to great lengths to avoid sweating, perspiration has two essential functions: It cools you down, and it rids the body of waste products.
The body contains two main types of sweat glands:
Sweat Toxins Out
Many of the tens of thousands of man-made chemicals in our environment make their way into our food, water and air. No matter how pure your diet or lifestyle, I guarantee that your body contains traces of hundreds, if not thousands, of chemicals such as pesticides, drugs, solvents and dioxins. There are ways to get rid of stored toxins, and one of them is sweating.
Sweating mobilizes toxins stored in the fat and enhances their elimination. If you’ve ever been around a heavy smoker or drinker, you know they reek of nicotine or alcohol—it literally pours out of their skin in their sweat. The same is true, although less obvious, of other toxins.
Here’s where a sauna comes in. On an average day, your eccrine glands put out about a quart of sweat. But when you hang out in a sauna, they pump out that much in 15 minutes.