Do you know how exposure to steam and heat affect the human body and can benefit you during the cold and flu season? Are you aware of the health benefits of a visit to the banya? Read on to find out more.
The Health Benefits of a Visit to The Bath House – Russian Banya
A visit to the banya has a variety of health benefits and could be just the thing during the flu season this spring. Russians have known this for many years and many visit the banya on a weekly basis to stay fit and healthy and keep viruses at bay.
Foreigners were (and still are) sometimes suspicious of the banya and public bathing, but visitors to Russia observed that it could be beneficial. An English doctor and fellow of the Royal Society called William Tooke wrote in 1779 that “quite often Russians use banya instead of medicine. And there is no doubt that this is a key to their great health and long lives”. Another English doctor pointed out that a lot of serious diseases have a much lower mortality rate among Russians in comparison to Europeans and he explained this high resistance to diseases by frequent visits to banya. Banya was sometimes called the “people’s first doctor'”(vodka was the second, raw garlic the third) and this is not just unfounded superstition. There is genuine medical evidence that the banya has a number of positive prophylactic health benefits. Here are some of those:
Cardiovascular and immune system
When the body heats up, the heart starts beating faster and blood flow around the body increases. After a cold shower or immersion in a plunge pool, the blood flow decelerates and the heart rate slows down. These rapid changes in temperature strengthen the cardiovascular system and have been linked to a reduced risk of a cardiovascular-related disease. A 2016 study followed 2,315 middle-aged men from Finland over 30 years and found that more sauna sessions corresponded to a lower risk of sudden cardiac death and overall cardiovascular disease. Dr. Adam Rindfleisch summarised the research as follows: “Basically, more saunas equated to a longer lifespan.” Why is this? Rindfleisch explains, “There are many theories. We know that heat therapy increases blood flow, bumps up the heart rate to a level that is similar to exercising, and, when done regularly, improves overall blood vessel health. There is probably added benefit because of stress reduction, not to mention social connection, if you sauna with others.”
Heat also positively affects muscles, joints and bones. It helps to remove lactic acid, salt and urea from the body and facilitates the absorption of nutritional substances and oxygen. Banya makes joints and muscles more flexible and elastic and is beneficial for people with arthritis, rheumatic fever and those recovering from injuries. Banya can also help alleviate muscular pain and is especially useful after exercise if the muscles are sore or stiff. Many athletes now integrate steam and ice baths into their training regime to promote recovery and greater flexibility.
Detoxification and weight loss
The warm steam opens the pores, which helps to remove waste, toxic substances, sweat and dead cells from the skin. Banya normalizes the functioning of the sweat glands, which, in turn, slows down the development of wrinkles and other signs of ageing. Regular banya visits combined with a healthy diet and regular exercise help you maintain a healthy weight. The body’s capillaries dilate when they are exposed to the heat of the banya, allowing blood to flow freely and easily and your entire body to be oxygenated.
Respiratory system and colds
The steam of the banya opens and clears the respiratory system, unblocking your sinuses and helping you to breathe more freely. The heat from the banya creates an artificial “fever” and stimulates the immune system. Regular use of the banya helps combat common colds, viruses, laryngitis and asthma. Viruses do not survive the high temperature of the banya.
The heat and humidity of the banya relax the muscles, stimulate the production of endorphins and promote the release of stress-induced tension. The benefits of the banya are both physical and mental. You typically visit the banya with friends or family and it is a sociable and enjoyable activity that can improve your mood. The banya can provide a refuge from the intensity of the modern world and allow you to reconnect with nature. There are no phones or social media in the steam room. You will emerge from the banya relaxed and rejuvenated, physically and mentally refreshed.