Finnish sauna culture: a rich history of wellness and relaxation

Finnish sauna culture: a rich history of wellness and relaxation

As the world becomes more connected, Finnish sauna culture continues to attract global attention.

In December 2020, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) added Finnish sauna culture to its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This recognition highlights the importance of sauna culture in Finnish society and celebrates its unique contribution to human wellbeing and social cohesion. For centuries, Finnish people have gathered in saunas to relax, purify their bodies, and connect with nature and each other. Sauna culture is deeply ingrained in Finnish identity and lifestyle, and it has evolved over time to reflect changes in society and technology. Today, saunas are found in homes, public spaces, and even Parliament, and they continue to be an essential part of Finnish culture and tradition.

The first saunas in Finland were dug into the ground and covered with animal skins or turf. Over time, saunas evolved into wooden structures built above ground with fireplaces for heating. The first written record of a Finnish sauna dates back to the 16th century. Traditionally, saunas were used for washing, healing, and spiritual cleansing. They were also used as a place for women to give birth and for the dead to be washed before burial.

Today, saunas continue to be an important part of Finnish culture and daily life. They are used for relaxation, socializing, and improving physical and mental health. Finnish saunas are typically made of wood, with a stove or heater located in the center of the room. The stove or heater is heated with wood or electricity, and rocks are placed on top of the stove or heater to provide humidity. The room is heated to around 80-100°C (176-212°F), and people typically sit on wooden benches inside the sauna room. Water can be poured over the hot rocks to create steam, which enhances the sweating process.



Sauna etiquette and customs

The Finnish sauna experience is unique and distinctive from other sauna cultures in their customs & etiquette . This includes using a birch branch, called a "vihta" or "vasta", to gently beat the skin and enhance blood circulation while in the sauna.


Health benefits and scientific studies

Saunas have been found to have numerous health benefits. Regular sauna use has been associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure, and improved immune function. Sauna use has also been found to improve athletic performance and aid in recovery after exercise. Scientific studies have also shown that regular sauna use can have positive effects on mental health, including reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Recent research suggests that using a sauna daily may even be associated with an increased lifespan. A study conducted in Finland followed over 2,000 middle-aged men for an average of 20 years. The study found that those who used the sauna four to seven times a week had a 66% lower risk of developing dementia and a 65% lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, compared to those who used the sauna only once a week.

Additionally, the study found that frequent sauna use was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality. The risk of sudden cardiac death was found to be 22% lower among men who used the sauna four to seven times a week compared to those who used it once a week.

It's important to note that the study does not prove that sauna use directly causes these health benefits, but rather it suggests a correlation between the two. Nevertheless, the results are promising and warrant further research into the health benefits of sauna use.

Overall, the study suggests that using a sauna daily may have a positive impact on health and longevity. As always, it's important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new health regimen, including frequent sauna use.


UNESCO recognition is a significant milestone 

UNESCO recognition of Finnish sauna culture is a significant milestone in the country's history. This list aims to safeguard cultural practices and expressions that are representative of humanity's diversity.

The process of nomination and selection for the Finnish sauna culture was rigorous and required the active participation of the Finnish government and its citizens. Finland's Ministry of Education and Culture spearheaded the nomination process, which involved extensive research and documentation of the country's sauna culture.

The UNESCO recognition of Finnish sauna culture has significant implications for the country's tourism industry, as it helps promote Finland's unique cultural heritage. Additionally, the recognition serves as a reminder of the importance of sauna culture in Finnish society and how it has contributed to shaping the country's identity. As the popularity of sauna culture grows, there is a risk of diluting the traditional practices and customs associated with Finnish saunas. On the other hand, there are also opportunities for the promotion and adoption of Finnish sauna culture internationally.


There is a renewed interest in Finnish saunas and their benefits.

This provides an opportunity for Finnish businesses and entrepreneurs to expand their reach and promote their saunas to a wider audience. Furthermore, innovations in sauna technology and design have created opportunities for more sustainable and efficient sauna options.

Overall, the future of Finnish sauna culture depends on the balance between preservation and adaptation. As long as the authenticity and traditions of Finnish saunas are respected, there is potential for the continued growth and promotion of this unique cultural practice.

The importance of preserving and promoting Finnish sauna culture is paramount to ensure its continuity and relevance in modern times. It presents challenges and opportunities for the Finnish government, sauna enthusiasts, and researchers to develop new ways of preserving, promoting, and adapting sauna practices to modern lifestyles.

Let us continue to promote and preserve the Finnish sauna experience and ensure that it remains an integral part of our global cultural identity for generations to come!


Leave a comment