Sweat bathing: Does Australia need a new sauna culture?

Updated September 27, 2017 19:05:45

When bathing in your own sweat, they say it’s best to sit, sweat, chill and repeat.

But how many of us have really warmed to this advice when stepping inside a sauna, steam room or hammam?

Australia is in desperate need of a new sauna culture, according to Jack Tsonis, the president of the Australian Sweat Bathing Association [ASBA].

“It’s odd because saunas are quite prevalent here,” he said.

“They’re in gyms, they’re in hotels, and there’s a few around in day spas; it’s not totally absent but there’s no culture around it.”

Between teaching at Western Sydney University and finding time to attend sauna forums around the world, Mr Tsonis established ASBA last year to encourage sweat bathing Down Under.

“Sauna on the one hand is a form of exercise … but it’s also well recognised as a social activity, especially in Finland and other places,” he said.

And he is aware of the sauna culture north of the equator, having recently conducted a guided tour of the Finnish embassy saunas in Canberra as part of its open day.

Sweat bathing fails

For the ideal sweat bathing experience, Mr Tsonis recommends checking the sauna is hot enough.

He said saunas should be set to a minimum of 70 degrees Celsius.

“Often I go to places where it’s almost hot enough but not quite,” he told ABC Radio Canberra’s Lish Fejer.

“That’s like getting a coffee that’s lukewarm … it’s really frustrating.

“If you do it properly, you sit in there long enough and get your heart thumping and then have a bit of cold water at the end.”

Mr Tsonis suggested going into the sauna multiple times for 15 to 20 minutes but stressed the need to cool down properly.

“That is where we are really truly lacking [in Australia],” he said.

“I have seen nowhere that has a really good plunge pool situation.

“You need to be able to cool down, have a cold shower, or if you have the space you would build a chilled plunge pool.”

Sauna in the desert

Talkback caller Ken shared his memories of getting hot and sweaty while on UN peacekeeping duties in the Middle East.

“They assigned me as the liaison officer to the Finnish battalion on the Golan Heights and they had a sauna up there that was a part of the daily routine,” he said.

“It gets very cold up there and you get snow on the Golan Heights sometimes so I thought that would be pretty natural.

“But then halfway through our time there the UN relocated us to the Sinai desert.

“It was 45 degrees outside the sauna … but we went in the sauna every day. It was very social.”

What are the benefits of sweating?

Eager to educate others about sweat bathing, Mr Tsonis plans to partner with scientists to produce an International Journal of Sauna Studies. He also hopes to build a mobile sauna to take around the country.

“The Finnish embassy has sponsored a travelling sauna around America to celebrate 100 years of Finnish independence,” he said.

“We also want to bring the heat to the people.

“People who like saunas know that it makes you feel good, helps you sleep at night, helps your skin feel smooth, and it helps you destress and unwind, but there is very little research on these claims.

“[In Finland] they measured 2,000 men in the 1980s and now they’re doing 20 to 30-year follow ups.

“The highest group were using saunas four times a week or more for 20 minutes [and] showed a decrease in death by cardiovascular disease and lower [blood] pressure. The most interesting was a reduced risk of dementia.”

Topics: health, lifestyle, human-interest, exercise-and-fitness, canberra-2600

First posted September 27, 2017 12:07:54