There’s nothing new about the idea of turning up the heat in a moisture-rich room and sitting in the steam for a while. Although folks were understandably wary about sharing such an intimate space with strangers during the pandemic, the sauna is experiencing a renaissance in communities across the U.S. and around the world.
A brief history
Steam rooms have been popular in some version throughout much of human history, with prominent examples across Asia, among Native American tribes, and throughout the Scandinavian population.
Whether focusing on dry heat or a steamy environment, the primary motivation is the belief that exposure to the heat has some sort of health benefit.
Proponents have long echoed largely unproven claims that saunas can help detoxify, aid in sleep, address mental health issues, and maintain a healthy heart.
A mixed bag
Most experts say there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with taking an occasional steam, but it’s important to be realistic about what benefits a sauna could provide. There have been some intriguing studies that link regular exposure to such environments with a healthier cardiovascular system — but there isn’t any evidence to support the idea that sweating can help you release toxins from your body.
Furthermore, it’s important not to view the sauna as a replacement for other healthy habits. As Finnish researcher Earric Lee explained: “It’s not like, ‘Oh, instead of going for my 45-minute run, I’m going to sit in the sauna for 45 minutes.’”
Here to stay
Although the jury is still out about the benefits of saunas, it’s clear that people just enjoy them. Young adults make up a big portion of the customer base for places like the Russian and Turkish Baths in New York, which enjoyed a 50% increase in year-over-year business in 2022.