Co-authored by Hannah Hamalainen & Justin Juntunen
This piece was first was published here.
The rise of “social distancing” as a method to combat the global spread of COVID-19 is upon us. We have seen the cancelations of large festivals and events, professional sports, and groups as small as 250 people. The basic message of social distancing is this: be thoughtful every time you contemplate getting together with a crowd or group. This is about making shifts in behavior that will make a real difference to those who are the most vulnerable.
The reason for large group events cancelations is the potential for the virus to spread quickly and the inability to clean spaces with the kind of regularity needed with hundreds or thousands of people in close proximity. But what about sauna — which brings together smaller, more intimate groups of people?
Sauna as self-care can be helpful if you sauna with the same people you’d normally be spending time with in your household.
Sauna is built around the concept of community. In the age of social distancing, we are reminded: You are not asked to stay at home and lock the door for a month, but you are asked to be thoughtful every time you get together. Recent research on the psychological effects of COVID-19 quarantine provides a glimpse into the mental health effects of social isolation. Social isolation itself can be quite unpleasant; UCLA’s Dr. Emanuel Maidenberg, a clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine, suggests finding activities that are pleasurable or stress-reducing. We argue that sauna as self-care can be helpful if you sauna with the same people you’d normally be spending time with in your household.
Saunas boost immune systems
We have heard some reports that sauna can be used to cure COVID-19. That is untrue. However, sauna as a preventative measure against flu symptoms has been proven in well-researched science journals. To clear up a few rumors and facts:
- Traditional wood-fired sauna is inherently harsh to coronavirus (high temp, low humidity, good ventilation, and the natural resistance of cedarwood to microbial deterioration). The health risks of taking a sauna are no more than taking an Uber or sitting in your living room with your family. (CITATIONS: Chan, 2011; Casanova, 2010; Rabenau, 2005)
- Sweat cannot transmit the virus. But breathing circulating air and touching high-contact surfaces such as doorknobs and gym equipment can pose a problem.
- Regular use of sauna — under ordinary times — supports a healthy life and immune system. Sauna is part of a healthy lifestyle, diet, and exercise. (CITATION: Mayo Clinic study).
The kind of sauna matters
Nine times out of ten, reports advocating against general sauna use in health clubs, gyms, and hotels are referring to infrared or electric saunas, not Finnish sauna. (CITATIONS: here and here.) They operate at lower temperatures, often with higher humidities, irregular cleaning, and without proper ventilation considerations. If you have entered the dank, musty, gym sauna, you’re experiencing a lower quality sauna experience.
The health risks of taking a sauna are no more than taking an Uber or sitting in your living room with your family.
Our traditional Finnish saunas are high heat (160–200 F), low humidity, proper ventilation, and are harsh for the virus to live on surfaces for more than two minutes. Traditional saunas are cleaned regularly, meticulously, and to the guidelines of our local and state agencies. As sauna owners, our saunas aren’t an afterthought or service add-on as they are in a gym — they are a part of our culture and our community. We look to countries with higher use of sauna in public life (i.e., Finland and the Baltic states) to learn from their guidelines on use in this global crisis.
People still need people
Why are we in this sauna work in the first place? Sauna is related to health and wellness, yes. But underneath we deeply believe in the value of sauna to promote healthy relationships and community. In a polarized world, we need spaces that support health, connection, and understanding. One of our favorite Finnish proverbs is: “All people are created equal, but nowhere more so than in the sauna.” Anxiety seems to be the ruler of these modern times. We don’t believe that needs to be the case.
We are taking the safety measures to allow you to join us in small groups for experiences that we as humans need and crave. To be together.
Finally, sauna has been a catalyst for community building for centuries and we aren’t going to stop now. If you decide to wait until things blow over for the next few months, we will be here for you with open arms.
Founder, Little Red Sauna, Portland, ME
Cedar & Stone Nordic Sauna, Duluth, MN