The Steam Jade room at Jeju Sauna is a thermal sauna. Contributed by Jeju Sauna
Photo: For the AJC
Photo: For the AJC

Sweating out the stress: When saunas are great for nurses

If the word "sauna" only conjures up images of Ancient Romans or certain mafia movies like “The Blues Brothers,” you may be missing a concept that can help nurses reduce stress and ease aches as it relaxes tight muscles. Yes, letting them see you sweat turns out to be a good thing. 

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Physical therapist Brett Sears is the owner of Capital Region Physical Therapy, which includes sports performance personal training, post-op rehab and care for orthopedic injuries among its focuses. He explained that heat from 98-110 degrees Fahrenheit used in physical therapy, particularly via warm whirlpools, helps increase circulation. "It essentially opens your small arteries to speed healing blood, oxygen and new cells to an injured area," noted Sears, who is also the physical therapy expert at Verywell Health. While whirlpool therapy typically delivers this heat to just a specified limb in a small whirlpool, the same concept applies to both wet and dry saunas, or any activity that delivers acute whole-body thermotherapy. 

Methods that heat the body from the inside out within a certain temperature range "induce discrete metabolic changes" that produce heat shock proteins, reduce oxidative stress and inflammation pathway activities and increase insulin sensitivity, according to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Athletic Training.

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And saunas and the associated sweating can provide even more widespread health advantages, including batting back the stress responses nurses endure every day on the job. According to a 2018 review of 40 clinical studies out of RMIT University in Melbourne, there is strong evidence to "suggest that sauna bathing can induce profound physiological effects." These come about when the intense exposure to higher temps makes skin and then core body temperature soar, activating the sympathetic nervous system and leading “to well-documented cardiovascular effects with increased heart rate, skin blood flow, cardiac output and sweating," according to the Australian researchers. 

Finnish sports and health scientists also conducted a review of literature published in 2018. It found sauna bathing, popular in that country for at least two millennia, "may be linked to several health benefits, which include reduction in the risk of vascular diseases such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and neurocognitive diseases." Just as impressive, the social and pleasurable sauna habit can reduce the risk of pulmonary diseases and assuage arthritis, headaches and even the flu. 

But don’t think all those benefits put an ongoing sauna experience out of your reach. "Sauna bathing is inexpensive and widely accessible with Finnish-style saunas more often used in family, group, and public settings and infrared saunas more commonly built and marketed for individual use," the RMIT researchers explained.

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Even though Atlanta is worlds away from the Finnish and Australian researchers, saunas have become a popular pastime in the area. Nurses who want to tap into sauna benefits have plenty of options in the area. Numerous health clubs offer saunas, and the infrared sauna studio franchise based in Los Angeles, HotBox Sauna Studio, currently has two Atlanta locations in Vinings and Sandy Springs. In 2020, HotBox is expanding with two more locations in Buckhead and Midtown. A typical HotBox session takes 45 minutes in a private booth and includes chromotherapy options, music and Netflix. Hotbox reports that in addition to detoxing and skin benefits, some clients leave up to 600 calories lighter after a session. A more sociable sauna option is the traditional Korean bathhouse and sauna at Je Ju Sauna in Duluth (3555 Gwinnett Place Drive NW, 678-336-7414).

Best of all, researchers from Eastern Finland have discovered that one sauna experience is good, and frequent visits are even better. According to research published in the American Journal of Hypertension in 2017, white men ages 42 to 60 who took saunas four to seven times per week reduced their risk of developing hypertension over almost 25 years. Even nurses who plan to retire before they’ve worked two more decades can enjoy the health benefits of saunas for a long time to come.

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