Sweat Your Way to Radiant Health

'On the bright side, the dry heat really seems to be helping my arthritis.'

I used to take saunas as a part of my regular workout routine. Once I was sitting in the sauna with my workout partner, and he wondered whether saunas are actually good for us. We live in the era of the Internet when no one has to wonder about anything for very long.  When I got back to my office, I immediately Googled “Sauna health benefits.”  I assumed there were some.

Among the hits, I noticed a site, “United in Wellness,” that had the line “Sweat your way to radiant health.” I put that line in quotes and Googled it. I got about 2,530 results. The sites promoting the amazing health benefits of saunas had names like “Quantum Massage Works,” “Radiant Health Yoga,” “Ecomall: A Place to Help Save the Earth” and Well Being Journal: Heralding the Integration of Medicine With physical, Mental, Emotional, Spiritual & Social Aspects of Health. Not surprisingly, the Well Being Journal featured articles by Deepak Chopra.

Here are some typical health benefit claims for saunas made at these sites. These are from “Ecomall”:

“Sweating by overheating the body in a dry sauna also produces the following effects:

* Speeds up metabolic processes of vital organs and inhabits the growth of pathogenic bacteria and viruses. The vital organs and glands (including endocrine and sex glands) are stimulated to increased activity.

* Creates a fever reaction that kills potentially dangerous viruses/bacteria and increase the number of leukocytes in the blood, thereby strengthening the immune system.

* Places demands upon the cardiovascular system, making the heart pump harder and producing a drop in diastolic blood pressure.

* Stimulates vasodilation of peripheral vessels, which relieves pain and speeds healing of sprains, strains, bursitis, peripheral vascular diseases, arthritis and muscle pain.

* Promotes relaxation, thereby lending a feeling of well-being.”

Skeptic that I am, I decided to check out a site dedicated to what is called evidence-based medicine. This is what Thomas Allison, an exercise physiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., had to say about the health benefits of saunas:

“A sauna is like a glass of wine: It’s probably safe if used in moderation and in an intelligent fashion. It’s enjoyable, but there’s no hard data to suggest that the use of saunas or hot tubs has any bearing on your overall health.”

So when it comes to information, the Internet is a double-edged sword. In the case of the health benefits of saunas, the crackpot sites were way more prevalent than the sensible sites, so a gullible searcher could come away with a great deal of misinformation.

It amazes me that we live in a time when we have benefitted so much from science and science-based medicine, and yet so many are taken in by obvious nonsense when it comes to anything about health.  Deepak Chopra has milked the nebulous term “quantum” for all it’s worth and has managed to convince gullible people that it actually means something.  The comic George Carlin once said, “Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority will believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure.”

Crackpot Internet health sites have one big upside, for me, at least. They are a gold mine of bad writing. Because I teach a workshop on writing, I like to have examples of really bad writing that students can try to revise.  Google the term “holistic” or “wellness,” and I guarantee you that you find some of the worst prose in the world.  Those who don’t really have anything sensible to say often write gibberish.

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