Sauna Studies

Sauna Studies @ Western Sydney is a new multidisciplinary research group that has been created to promote the development of sauna research at both national and international levels.

The ultimate aim of the research group is to foster health, wellbeing, and community building, with a focus on the people and communities of Western Sydney. The aims and activity of the research group are described below, but can be summarised as follows:

  • to begin the systematic investigation of sauna usage in Australia;
  • to build on existing scientific research about the physical and mental health effects of sauna;
  • to conduct technology and planning research to overcome current barriers to access;
  • to join international colleagues in establishing protocols for sauna research;
  • to partner with government, community, and industry groups to promote health and wellbeing initiatives in Western Sydney and beyond;
  • to raise the profile of sauna as a health and wellness activity in Australia;
  • to promote increased availability of public sauna and steam facilities in Australia.

The group has been established by Dr Jack Tsonis (opens in a new window), lecturer in the Graduate Research School and founding president of the Australian Sweat Bathing Association (ASBA). Jack has been awarded ADP (research leave) for 2019, and is using this period to establish a new research specialisation at Western Sydney University.

The research group is also supported by the NICM Health Research Institute (opens in a new window).

Expressions of Interest are now open to join the research group

Sign up to join the research group 

All disciplines are welcomed and encouraged. No time commitment is required for initial sign-up.

The research group is open to the entire WSU community – academic staff, professional staff, and students. Affiliate members from other institutions are also welcome to join.

Aims of Sauna Studies @ Western Sydney

Broadly speaking, the new research group has two overarching aims:

1) To promote the development of Sauna Studies, both locally and in collaboration with international colleagues

Sauna Studies is a new and under-developed research field, with only scattered work published in recent decades. However, since 2015, more than a dozen papers have been published by a Finnish team lead by cardiologist Jari Laukkanen. These papers have been based on large prospective cohort studies, and have shown promising preliminary results in a range of exciting areas, such as heart disease, hypertension, dementia, and other health indicators associated with longevity.

But while recent sauna research is encouraging, much more needs to be done to capitalise on this momentum. In addition to replications, new populations (e.g. women, young people), and other studies into aspects of health and wellbeing, there is a major lack of social, cultural, and historical research. This represents a tremendous opportunity for researchers and research teams who seek to work on these issues.

For this reason, Sauna Studies @ Western Sydney is seeking members from all disciplinary backgrounds. For more information about possible project directions, see below (including planned collaborations with Dr Laukkanen and his colleagues.

2) To promote health, wellbeing, and community building in Australia, with a focus on Western Sydney

Humans have used sauna and other types of thermic bathing for thousands of years. Anecdotal evidence is overwhelming that sauna not only makes people feel happy and healthy, but that such types of bathing are powerful engines for social connectivity. Scientific research is also increasingly suggesting that such claims have basis in fact, with sauna bathing likened to moderate exercise in terms of physiological effects.

But sauna is not popular in Australia. Facilities are hard to find, are often in poor repair, and are sometimes prohibitively expensive. There is also a lack of cultural knowledge about sauna, which means that citizens do not demand good sauna facilities and proprietors do not build them. Governments are also failing to capitalise on the important potential of sauna for public wellness.

Our research group wants to change this situation by conducting some of the first research in Australia on the possible benefits of sauna as a health and social intervention. In particular, we aim to promote increased sauna use in the Greater Western Sydney Region by connecting with external partners and engaging with local communities, with the hope of encouraging more availability based a compelling and growing evidence base.

In an age when many people are not doing enough physical activity to maintain good physical and mental health, and in a historical context where polities around the world are experiencing increasing social fragmentation, sauna represents an exciting opportunity to promote good health and good community in a creative and impactful way.

The first concrete objective of the research group is to work towards a Sauna Studies @ Western Sydney Community Forum in June 2019, where local health and industry partners will be engaged to plan the next phases of development, expansion, and research translation.

How to join the research group

Register using the online sign-up form

Registration is free, and is available to WSU staff and students. Professional staff are warmly welcome in addition to academic staff.

Register online (opens in a new window)

Affiliate Members from other institutions (including organisations other than universities) are also welcome to register.
Please email Dr Jack Tsonis to register as an Affiliate Member.

What does becoming a member involve?

Joining the Sauna Studies @ Western Sydney research group entails the following:

  • In the first instance, you are expressing interest to be involved in the early stages of establishing the research group.
  • You will be involved in email chains, and also meetings if you are able to attend.
  • No time commitment is required simply as a result of signing up. All projects will be discussed, and participation negotiated for each particular initiative.
  • The research group is seeking wide support, so your registration will help us demonstrate that there is widespread interest in sauna research, even if you only remain on the email list.
  • See the provisional timetable below

Provisional timeline of activity

All work of the research group will be negotiated, but the following is a rough outline of the type of activity envisaged up to the period June 2019.

Sep–Dec (2018) Seeking expressions of interest; initial email discussions; first physical meeting; commence planning first social research project
January (2019) First monthly meeting; commence developing HREA application for first social research project; commence stakeholder engagement
February Monthly meeting; submission of HREA for social research project
March Monthly meeting; first on-campus sauna event
April Monthly meeting; second on-campus sauna event
May Monthly meeting; third on-campus sauna event
June Monthly meeting; Sauna Studies @ Western Sydney Community Forum

Monthly meeting times to be determined based on group availability.

Projects and initiatives

Primary research projects (initial stage)

The first major output of the group will be a social research project called “Motivations of Australian Sauna Bathers”. The aim of this project will be to investigate the motivations of people who currently use sauna in public facilities, which will lay the base for many further investigations.

The other major work of the group will be a theoretical project to develop a robust taxonomy of thermic bathing, so that sauna and related types of bathing can be studied with uniformity by global researchers. Currently no taxonomy exists, and there is a chaos of terminology that undermines strong, cumulative science.

Possibilities for further projects

Sauna Studies @ Western Sydney aims to generate research in a wide range of areas, and will focus on developing multidisciplinary projects across the following areas:

  • Physical health (e.g. effect of sauna on sleep; effect of sauna post-exercise; biochemistry)
  • Mental health (e.g. investigating anecdotal reports that sauna improves subjective wellbeing)
  • Social research (e.g. habits and motivations of regular sauna users; ethnographies of sauna communities; potential of sauna as space for social connectivity; urban planning projects)
  • Technology and design research (e.g. sauna stove design; energy efficiency and sustainability; architecture and engineering; programming and software development)
  • History (e.g. the history of sauna in Australia)
  • Creative arts (e.g. projects that document and explore sauna culture, incl. practice-led research in writing, music & audio, visual arts, etc.)

Stakeholder engagement

A key principle of Sauna Studies @ Western Sydney is that success will only be achieved by building relationships with a wide range of stakeholders, within and beyond the university.

Priority external partners to be engaged include:

  • Local health districts
  • Local and state government
  • Local community services

Priority WSU partners to be engaged include:

  • Workplace health & wellbeing
  • Campus life
  • Student representative council
  • International office

Student recruitment

As a research group, an important measure of our success will be attracting students to work on sauna-related projects.

Students can be recruited from undergraduate, Master’s and PhD levels, and will be eagerly sought from all disciplines.

On-campus sauna events

More information will be available soon, but the proposal is to host at least three (3) on-campus sauna events, including student events, staff events, and mixed events, along with women-only events in all categories.

Currently the plan is to use a mobile sauna tent loaned by ASBA, although a campaign will be launched for the university to build permanent on-campus facilities, as well as a mobile wellness bus that can travel around all campuses, and out into the community.


Dr Jack Tsonis