Want to triple your chances of living to 100, keep muscles strong, feel less stressed and enjoy wrinkle-free, glowing skin?
Then according to an eminent doctor, you need a sauna.
In her new book, Younger, Dr Sara Gottfried tells of an extraordinary scientific discovery that shows regular saunas switch on a longevity gene which produces anti-ageing antioxidants, boosting the genes that become less effective with age.
Two to three saunas a week can also slash the risk of dying from a heart attack or developing dementia. And now a leading manufacturer says sales have more than doubled in the last year, as homeowners reap the health benefits.
Here, JILL FOSTER meets five homeowners who wouldn’t be without their saunas…
‘I’m sleeping better, my skin is clearer and I look less tired,’ says yoga teacher Heather Wright, 43, from Granborough, Bucks
MY SKIN AND HEALTH IMPROVED
Heather Wright, 43, is a yoga teacher and Thai masseuse. She is married to Oli, 47, a corporate finance adviser. They live in Granborough, Bucks, with son Sam, ten, and daughter Alice, eight. She says:
I’ve loved saunas ever since I first visited Finland in my 20s. They make you feel amazing and I love the peace and quiet. It’s as if you’re in your own little cocoon and I enjoy the challenge of staying in for as long as possible!
We got our own sauna just before Christmas and although it cost nearly £10,000, I’ve used it almost every day. It’s electric, takes half-an-hour to heat up and has room for eight people.
I love it and use it in the morning or most often in the evening, depending on my schedule.
I work from home and it can be quite busy at times, but I go into the sauna for half-an-hour with a few drops of lavender or tea-tree oil and come out feeling relaxed. We got it initially to help with my Raynaud’s phenomenon — a painful condition that affects the circulation and even on hot days, if there’s a cool breeze, my hands and toes can go white and I lose sensation in them.
The sauna has really helped but I’ve noticed other health benefits too. I’m sleeping better, my skin is clearer and I look less tired — a neighbour asked Oli if I was 35 the other day! Now we’re having an ante-room built so we won’t have to step outside the house in the cold to get to the sauna. We’re putting in benches and we’ll have hooks for our robes.
Even our children love it and it’s a great place to sit together as a family and chat. Our children are still quite young so only stay in there for 15-20 minutes at a time, but we’ve heard that in Finland people take their babies into saunas for a few minutes to get them used to the heat.
BANNED FROM SPA, SO GOT OUR OWN!
Nicole Stanton, 28, owns a skincare range. She is married to Alex, 31, who is in the restaurant industry and they are expecting their first child in April. They live in Radlett, Herts. She says:
My husband and I have always enjoyed saunas and used to visit one at a spa in St Albans. But we got caught drinking water in there — something you’re not allowed to do apparently — and were banned! So we got our own.
We chose a £4,000 infra-red model which seats three and fits in an outbuilding in our garden. It’s nothing like a conventional sauna, which is essentially a hot room which heats the body rapidly and makes you sweat.
‘I’ve checked my electric bill since we started using it every day and it’s barely changed so it can’t be too expensive to run,’ says Nicole Stanton, 28, from Radlett, Herts
Instead, the infra-red rays penetrate deep beneath the skin, heating you up from the inside out and releasing toxins through your sweat. You could walk into the room and it doesn’t feel warm at all. It’s only after ten minutes that you begin to feel hot and, after an hour, you’re really sweating. But it’s wonderfully relaxing.
I’ve checked my electric bill since we started using it every day and it’s barely changed, so it can’t be too expensive to run.
Alex suffers from a number of conditions including asthma and psoriasis, so recently, as well as taking regular saunas, we’ve become vegan. His asthma has gone and while he’s still got some psoriasis, he no longer has to take the steroid cream that he’s used for the last ten years.
It’s a lovely thing to do as a couple, but at the moment Alex uses it more than me because I’m six months pregnant. You’re not supposed to overheat, so I can’t use it at all until after the baby is born later this year.
Alex will go in there for an hour a day before he goes to work and then cool off with a shower, which makes me very jealous!
I can’t wait to get back inside after the baby is born. Although there’s no research to say it’s harmful, I won’t be taking the baby in there — I’ll wait to see how he feels when he’s about five and will allow him to go in for short periods.
WE LOVE OUR BESPOKE ROBES
Debi White, 43, works as a PA for a law firm. She lives near Reading with husband James, 42, a project manager, and their three children El, 15, Elizabeth, 12, and William, eight. She says:
I’m still not sure at what point James went from saying ‘it would be nice to have a sauna’ to: ‘We’ve bought a sauna.’
He spent every weekend last year in the garden building it. It’s wood-fired, just beneath the children’s treehouse, and can hold about three people.
Debi White, 43, who lives near Reading, says: ‘It cost around £3,500 but I didn’t mind… I absolutely love it’
It cost around £3,500 but I didn’t mind, I absolutely love it. James did a lot of research and found the most important part of a sauna is something the Finnish call loyly — pronounced ‘low-loo’ — roughly translated as ‘the sauna feeling’.
To create that soft steam, you need a heater with a lot of stones — too few and it’s unpleasant — so he insisted on 100kg.
James loved building it and got us cotton robes with ‘J White’s Sauna’ embroidered on them! We have joked that we should get a ribbon and have an official opening. We use it once or twice a week, usually after exercising, but it requires a little planning ahead. It takes around an hour-and-a-half to heat, so we’ll set the wood burning before we go out for our run.
I don’t think the running costs are high. James does quite a few odd jobs here and there which means we end up with offcuts of wood, so it’s a lot less expensive than an electric one.
Coming home from a long run, then sitting in the sauna — with that lovely smell of eucalyptus from the wood — is so relaxing. James used to get quite a few aches and pains, but he says he’s noticed a real improvement since getting the sauna. He can stay in there for ages but I can only last a few minutes. We only have it at around 80 degrees, but it’s still too hot for me.
Our eldest daughter El has used it a few times as well, particularly when she’s got a cold as it’s brilliant for clearing the sinuses,
We had friends stay over at Christmas and although we don’t have a plunge pool, we do have a hosepipe, and we all came out of the sauna and hosed ourselves down! Luckily the neighbours can’t see, as there are only bungalows around here.
WE’RE NOW ON OUR THIRD SAUNA
Johanna Virolainen, 43, is married to Mark, 49, who works in business development. They have three children, Jasper, eight, Daisy, 11, and Jasmine, 13 and live in Haslemere, Surrey. She says:
Although I’ve lived in the UK for 22 years, I grew up in Finland, where every single house had its own sauna. It was simply part of the culture to have a sauna most days and I missed them so much when I moved here.
When I met Mark and we moved into our first house together, we got our first sauna. I joke that one of the conditions of me marrying Mark is that he had to build me a sauna and now he loves them more than me!
Johanna Virolainen, 43, of Haslemere, Surrey, says: ‘I use it at least five times a week and always feel wonderful afterwards’
I always insist we include one in any house we live in and we are now on our third.
Our current sauna is a barrel-shaped wood-burning sauna that we bought from a German company last year. A couple of people tell me it looks like it’s about to roll down the hill.
We hired a builder to put it at the top of a hill in our garden and all in all it cost less than £10,000. It doesn’t cost much to run because it’s a wood-burning model, so it doesn’t use electricity and having cut down several trees recently in our garden, we have an endless supply of logs.
‘We hired a builder to put it at the top of a hill in our garden and all in all it cost less than £10,000,’ says Johanna
This model probably seats around ten people, maximum, but we’ve never tried that many. I think the most we’ve had is six.
I tend to use it in the evenings or at weekends with my husband Mark, but the children will occasionally join us and they love it, too. I use it at least five times a week and always feel wonderful afterwards. I’ll sometimes invite girlfriends round, which is a lovely social thing to do.
There are some pretty amazing views from up on the hill and there’s nothing more relaxing than spending an hour inside the sauna then coming out to sit outside under a clear sky and cool down under the stars.
I wouldn’t be without it.
WE HAVE OUR OWN PLUNGE POND, TOO
Fenella Taylor, 51, runs an interiors and consumer PR company. She is married to David, 53, a finance director and they have four sons, Adam, 22, Thomas, 20, Mark, 18, and Ben, 15. They live in Dunbartonshire, Scotland. She says:
The idea for a sauna came to us last year when we were on holiday in Canada. We were doing kayak training and afterwards, as we stepped out of the water, cold and wet, we were asked if we’d like to take a sauna.
It was just a simple shed in the forest but it warmed us up in no time and David loved the idea of having one of our own.
Before we’d even left Canada, he’d ordered a sauna heater so he could build one in our garden.
He loves building things like sheds, but I wasn’t convinced that we’d use this very much — although that changed as soon as it was finished.
Fenella Taylor, 51, from Dunbartonshire, Scotland, sometimes asks friends round for ‘supper and a sauna’
David built the shed and put the sauna inside, with its own changing area, and a fridge which we use for drinks. It cost around £1,800 in total for the shed and sauna and it costs about £2 or £3 to run for every time we use it. It takes about half-an-hour to heat up, so you have to think ahead a bit.
There’s nothing better after I’ve been exercising or gardening or am laid low with a cold to wander across to the sauna in our garden and spend 30 minutes relaxing in the 80 degree heat.
The longest I can stand is 15 minutes I get too hot, but then I’ll cool down by taking a dip in the purpose-built swimming pond right next to it. It’s exhilarating. On wintry nights, we’ve even been known to break through the ice to take a dip which cools you down very quickly!
David and I tend to use it mostly at the weekends or in the evenings so we can unwind and have a chat. We have been known to get all six of us in it, although it’s a bit of a squeeze. We tend to cover up in bathing suits as I’m not quite ready to go the whole hog like the Finnish do and go naked.
Besides, who knows who might see us and I wouldn’t want to give anyone a shock!
It’s very sociable though. Our sons enjoy inviting their mates over to use it and we sometimes ask friends round for ‘supper and a sauna’. We tend to do it more in the winter, though, as its cosier. I think some of our friends quite fancy the idea of their own sauna after they’ve been in ours.
I’m convinced it’s also good for our health. I’ve had a bit of a cold this week so I’ve used it once or twice with menthol oil. It really helps clear the sinuses.
Given the unreliable Scottish weather a sauna is perfect for warming up and drying out!