Here's why visiting the sauna is fantastic for your health

The sauna has been a staple of Finnish life for centuries, and reports of their relaxing qualities date all the way back to the year 1112. Today, the tradition lives on, and in a country with over 3 million saunas to choose from, finding a place to get steamy is easy in Finland.

This is excellent news for the health-conscious, as the old Finnish pastime has some fantastic effects on the body. In fact, a study of 2,315 people suggests that regular sauna users have a 40 per cent lower risk of premature death by all causes, while another suggests that taking a sauna four times a week can reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease by 60 per cent.

And that's just the beginning of the good news. Here are just five more ways the sauna can improve your mind and body.

It toughens up the immune system

Relaxing in the 80 to100 degree steamy heat before stepping out into the cold Finnish air is an effective way to train your body to adapt to temperature changes. What's more, the rise of artificial temperature tricks your body into thinking it has a fever, so it increases the number of white blood cells to be better equipped to deal with illness.

It's great for your skin

There's a reason why you see people leaving a sauna with a fresh and healthy glow.  The sauna increases blood flow, which widens the pores enough for sweat to flush out all those hidden toxins.  But getting the best effect from the sauna means not getting steamy for too long, and alternating between cold and hot temperatures every ten minutes.  And, if you apply a moisturising cream to your skin after your steamy session, your complexion will glow brighter than a reflector under a high-beam headlight.

It helps you breathe easy

A study that focused on almost 2,000 men confirmed that three sauna visits a week significantly reduced the chances of developing an array of respiratory diseases. For years it has been believed that sauna heat can improve lung function, and this study seems to have confirmed that belief, as the results found that regular sauna goers were less likely to develop COPD, asthma and even pneumonia compared to infrequent sauna users.

It makes you happy 

It's no mystery why people report feeling happy and positive after leaving the sauna, as sauna sessions pump the body full of feel-good endorphins such as dopamine and beta-Endorphin. This is a great way to put an end to a stressful day, as these chemicals improve mood, increase energy, and even give you a sense of euphoria. In fact, studies suggest that sitting in the sauna can induce a "runner's high," without you having to move a muscle.

It helps you sleep

After leaving the 80-100 degree heat of a typical sauna, your body will begin the gradual cooling down process, which makes you feel sleepy and ready to go to bed. What's more, as the sauna reduces muscle pains, tension and stress, it makes your body and mind feel more relaxed than Snoop Dogg in an Amsterdam "coffee shop." With this in mind, it's no wonder why the sauna-goers experience deeper sleep, which has a profound effect on mood and stress management.

Essential tips for visiting the sauna 

Has this article inspired you to visit the sauna?  If so, remember that the body goes through a certain amount of stress while getting hot and steamy.  So stay well hydrated, avoid alcohol and have a chat with your doctor before making sauna time part of your routine.

And if you're visiting Helsinki and want to live like a Finn, check out this handy New York Times list of Helsinki's best public saunas, and let the steam work its magic.

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