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Taking a Sauna: The Secret Sauna – Episode 3

Taking a Sauna: The Secret Sauna – Episode 3

It’s nearly a month into the build now and progress has been surprisingly good. Hopefully, it won’t be long now before we are taking a sauna in our own back garden. We are nearing the end now, a few weeks sooner than I had thought possible.

Having a two-year-old son tends to take up a huge amount of time in any one day. Added to that, I have regular writing tasks to complete and various other responsibilities. Because of these varying commitments, the actual sauna building tends to take up just a couple of hours a day. Despite this, we seem to be about three-quarters of the way through the process now.

The structure itself was completed a couple of weeks back. Insulation was added and much of the cladding completed. Essentially, what we have is a box. The flooring is made up of planks, so what remains is essentially five surfaces and a door. Four of those five are now insulated and clad, and a door is in place. Currently, the latter is a fairly simple creation, but it should function adequately. I have plans to upgrade it in the next few months, but it will do for now.

How to Build Your Own Sauna and Sweat book by Mikkel Aaland
Just an e-book I’m afraid, but cheap and cheerful and penned by the inimitable Mikkel Aaland

Building a Bench

The final surface, the front wall, has to remain incomplete while I still need easy access to work on the inside of the sauna and also build and install a decent sized bench. This last task is what I am currently engaged in. It will be a fairly substantial structure but, at the same time, I want it to be easily taken out for occasional cleaning.

The main considerations for such a bench are size, comfort, and stability. We’ve gone for a 20″ wide bench on the grounds that such a width should allow for a recumbent posture if desired. We wanted the bench slatted because we will, hopefully at least, be sweating considerably. Finally, it is important to be mentally relaxed, not concerned about any potential instability if the bench were too weak or unsteady.

a bench for taking a sauna
This is available on Amazon and not a dissimilar design to my own creation, though dimensions are somewhat less and the cost is more than double. I enjoy the DIY route myself …

As ever, youtube was both a boon and a problem. Several bench building possibilities emerged but choosing the most appropriate has been a little confusing. Height, depth, size of slats, thickness of legs … all of these are considerations that need to be taken into account. Out of this maze of advice, a favourite seems to be emerging. I am hoping to complete that part of the task over the next couple of days.

Once complete, the way is clear to finishing the final wall of the sauna itself, quickly followed by the changing area. With the latter, we can be a little more relaxed on insulation and cladding. We need such an area to be comfortable and not at all drafty, but beyond that, it only needs to relatively simple, clean, and convenient.

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hydrometer for taking a sauna
These are quite tempting. There are some (many, in fact) things that are beyond my DIY skills…

Yet more Reasons to take a regular Sauna

Part of the rationale of building a sauna was the huge range of benefits, both physical and psychological, that such a facility would offer. In previous episodes of this blog, we have already identified nearly a dozen such reasons. These are just the tip of the iceberg though.

Taking a Sauna improves Skin Health

Heat stress acts as a mild hormetic on the skin. It does this by assisting the growth of skin fibroblasts. These are cells that are found in connective tissue and help to produce collagen and other fibres. The hormetic effect of the heat in a sauna stresses your skin which then elicits its anti-oxidant defence systems, thus stimulating the cellular repair process.

If you are able to take saunas on a regular basis, you are likely to experience ongoing skin improvement. Hydration will be improved, thus maintaining the pH levels on the surface which will result in less oily skin. This should lead to fewer spots and help to ameliorate other skin problems.

Taking a Sauna may help to fight Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease is fast becoming a modern-day plague. A few decades back, it was a fairly rare disease. In recent times, however, the numbers of people suffering from this appalling condition have increased markedly. It has become one of the most likely causes of death in the US today, accounting for 133,382 fatalities in 2020.

One of the main problems in Alzheimer’s is the accumulation of misfolded proteins such as beta amyloid plaques. These are commonly found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. During sauna, the body produces heat shock proteins (HSPs). These act to repair and regenerate misfolded proteins, thus restoring their intended structure. This prevents the proteins from clumping together and making dangerous plaques that interfere with brain function.

Another benefit of taking a sauna that relates to Alzheimer’s is the increase in the production of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor. BDNF helps to promote neurogenesis, along with several other significant neurological benefits. Dr. Jari Laukkannen’s 20-year study of middle-aged, sauna taking men in Finland showed that those who used the sauna four to seven times weekly had an astonishing 65 per cent decrease in their likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s(1).

Taking a Sauna may help to Improve Lung Function

Another finding of Dr Laukkannen’s long-term observational study into the effects of taking regular saunas was a 41 per cent decrease in respiratory diseases for those taking a sauna four to seven times a week over those merely taking one.

The use of sauna has several positive effects on lung function. It decreases lung infections whilst simultaneously increasing lung capacity. Another study also found that tidal volume, minute ventilation, and expiratory volume were all improved by taking a sauna on a regular basis(2).

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On a more conjectural level, people who suffer from asthma or chronic bronchitis regularly report that taking a sauna improves their breathing. In my regular sauna days back in Loughton, I commonly came across people who would tell me of their breathing problems prior to discovering these effects whilst sharing a chat in the dry heat of the sauna.

Taking a Sauna may help Fight Diabetes

Another of the positive effects of taking a sauna is that doing so acts as an exercise mimetic. This means that, at least as far as the body is concerned, our physiology reacts in much the same way as if it had undergone a strenuous exercise session. Many people, because of underlying physical limitations, cannot take regular exercises. Others don’t exercise simply because they don’t wish to. For both groups, taking a sauna can help to recreate many of the positive effects of taking exercise simply by sitting in a sufficiently warm room for 20 minutes or so several times a week.

For those who can, of course, partaking in regular exercise has a very positive effect on metabolic health. Taking a suana may not be able to replace all the favourable effects of regular exercise but it can still make a very significant difference and help to alleviate many of the symptoms associated with type 2 diabetes.

Being exposed to what would normally be considered excessive heat can be beneficial in and of itself. In an interesting experiment, mice that had been made diabetic were subjected to hyperthermia (excessive heat) three times a week for a period of twelve weeks. At the end of this time, they showed a 31 per cent reduction in insulin levels. They also significantly decreased their fasting blood glucose levels (3).

Taking a Sauna may help to support the Immune System

Hyperthermia helps to support the immune system, something we all need to be particularly aware of given the current pandemic. One of the reasons for this is that heat shock proteins (HSPs), which taking a sauna can trigger, stimulate the ability of of immune system to adapt to new challenges.

There is evidence to suggest that taking a sauna on a regular basis can even reduce the number of times we suffer the common cold. In one study, two groups were compared, one taking a sauna regularly whilst the other did not. At the start of the study, there was little difference between the two groups. After a month, though, the group taking a sauna were suffering far fewer colds than the control group (4).

The hyperthermia we experience when taking a sauna can also easily kill off infectious microbes commonly found on the skin. Because of this, it can help us fight infections of many kinds.

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Prospects for the Next Week

This has been the third episode of the sauna building saga. Progress of late has been surprisingly quick, despite the limitations that other commitments placed on my time. In the time of writing this blog, I have designed and built a suitable bench. It turned out to be a lot more solid than I had hoped. In the end, I built it out of 3 X 1 1/2 inch timbers, though I had been tempted to use 4 x 2s. I am glad I refrained; it would have been a weighty beast if I had continued with the thicker timbers.

My own modest efforts at building a bench in the secret sauna.

The final pieces of cladding should be applied later today, thus effectively finishing off the inside of the sauna. After that, the intention is to purchase a suitable sauna heater. We were intending to go down the electric route simply for the convenience and, to some extent at least, the cost. A recent conversation, though, has led to me re-thinking this strategy.

The changing area needs a fair amount of work but, all being well, I am hoping to have finished this project by the time I write the next episode. We shall see!

An Interesting Alternative

Whilst wandering around my local town, Thetford in Norfolk, I came across an interesting alternative. Party Sauna (5), hire out, for a very reasonable fee, beautifully made and equipped barrel saunas. These can be delivered on a trailer and be rented for as little as four hours at a time. They come complete with soft LED lights and a sound system.

Personally, I was very impressed. The owner of the business comes from one of the Baltic states and is someone who shares my own enthusiasm for saunas in general.

One of the options that comes with going down this route is hiring the sauna out and then, if you enjoy your sauna party, you can actually purchase the product too. The prices are surprisingly reasonable, especially given the very high standards of workmanship displayed. I thought my own efforts were reasonable but are decidedly poor in comparison with these solid and substantial builds.

Conclusion

With luck, the next instalment of this series should be the last. I need to decide exactly what sort of heater I need and how to install it. Originally, I was intending to use an electric heater but, after a long and interesting conversation with the own of Party Sauna, I am leaning more towards the log-burning alternative. Speaking of alternatives, if I wasn’t so keen on enjoying the process of building itself, or didn’t have the necessary skills, I would be very tempted to order one of Party Sauna’s well-equipped and well made saunas myself.

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