Saunas have been used for thousands of years to bathe, socialize, and promote health.
When you think of a sauna, you likely think of a traditional Finnish sauna. This is the typical small wood room that is pumped full of hot dry air. However, there are other types of saunas, including infrared saunas, which are heated by infrared light, and wet saunas, more commonly known as steam rooms.
You can often find saunas in public gyms or hotel spas, but their popularity for personal use is growing. This is largely due to the fact that using a sauna regularly has proven health benefits.
Let’s take a look at some of the health benefits of using a sauna regularly!
What Are The Benefits Of A Sauna
The benefits of a sauna are numerous and include the improvement of a number of factors related to cardiometabolic health. These benefits are thought to stem from the high heat of the room and the body’s natural ability to regulate temperature. How hot is a sauna? It can range from 113 °F to 212 °F (45 °C to 100 °C). Dry saunas are typically set at a higher temperature, 176 °F to 194 °F, while infrared saunas are typically set between 113 °F and 140 °F.
The heat triggers the sympathetic nervous system, causing heat stress on the body and resulting in widespread cardiovascular benefits, including increased heart rate, blood flow, and cardiac output. In fact, a review of multiple studies found that frequent sauna users had a reduced risk of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and death from all causes.
Another benefit of a sauna is sweating. Sweat releases toxins, such as toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and pesticides, that may inhibit health. Studies show that sweat is particularly more effective than urine at removing heavy metals, such as aluminum, cadmium, cobalt, and lead.
There are additional health benefits to using a sauna that researchers have discovered as well. Both dry and infrared sauna benefits include:
- Improving allergy symptoms
- Reducing pain from rheumatoid arthritis
- Enhancing the skin moisture barrier
- Reducing the risk of dementia
- Boosting athletic performance
- Improving resting blood pressure
- Reducing symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome
- Reducing symptoms of depression
- Preserving muscle mass
People who sauna regularly also report psychological benefits, including less stress, relaxation, mindfulness, and better sleep. For these reasons alone, it may be worth it to visit the sauna, as the additional benefits of improved sleep and lower stress are innumerable.
Infrared Sauna Benefits
Infrared saunas benefit human health in the same way as dry saunas. According to a meta-analysis on the benefits of sauna bathing, both dry saunas and infrared saunas induce heat stress on the body and, thus, produce the same cardiovascular and metabolic benefits.
One of the benefits of an infrared sauna over a dry sauna, however, is that the heat can be more tolerable. This is because infrared saunas are generally set to a lower temperature. Rather than heating the air, as is the case in a traditional sauna, the infrared light in an infrared sauna directly heats the body. This may make it not only more tolerable but also more relaxing to sit in a sauna.
Are infrared saunas safe?
Infrared saunas are generally safe, but there are serious potential side effects. Dehydration from loss of fluids is something anyone using a sauna needs to be aware of, particularly overweight individuals who are at greater risk of dehydration.
In addition, there are some people that shouldn’t use the sauna. For example, if you are pregnant or have a serious health condition like uncontrolled blood pressure then you should avoid using the sauna. Talk to your doctor if you are considering incorporating the sauna into your regular routine.
Benefits Of Sauna After Workout
Saunas have long been used to aid muscle recovery, and recent research seems to back up this traditional claim. Saunas increase blood flow to the muscles, which may help with muscle recovery and endurance. One study of healthy men found that sauna use directly after 30 minutes of aerobic exercise reduces oxidative stress. Another small study found that runners had increased endurance when they followed exercise with a sauna session.
So, if you’re already at the gym, it may be beneficial to tack on a sauna session after your workout. But be sure to drink plenty of water, ideally fortified with electrolytes. Using the sauna after a sweaty workout will contribute to additional fluid loss and loss of essential electrolytes, such as sodium and magnesium, which can lead to muscle cramps, fatigue, and dehydration.
Benefits Of Sauna vs Steam Room
Some of the benefits of a sauna likely overlap with the benefits of a steam room, as both put heat stress on the body. However, there is less research on steam rooms to back up the potential benefits.
Saunas and steam rooms do differ in a few key ways. Because the humidity in a steam room is much higher than it is in a traditional sauna, it puts more strain on the cardiovascular system and can feel hotter. Additionally, a steam room doesn’t induce sweat the same way a sauna does, as high humidity in the room prevents sweat from evaporating. Ultimately, a steam room likely provides some of the same benefits as a sauna but more research needs to be done to determine the tradeoffs between each.
Do Saunas Help You Lose Weight
Using a sauna can cause immediate weight loss due to fluid loss however it is likely temporary. Studies suggest that the loss in body mass after a sauna session is mainly attributed to a loss of body water and recommend that this loss of fluid should be replaced by consuming water to prevent dehydration.
Still, while using a sauna may not directly help you lose weight, it may help improve sleep and reduce stress, both of which can help promote maintaining a healthy weight. Thus, using a sauna regularly can be a great addition to a healthy lifestyle that supports your weight loss goals.
Does the sauna burn calories?
Sitting in a sauna does burn calories, but it’s likely not the major calorie burn many are looking for.
You burn calories when your body needs energy. This process is happening all throughout the day. The more energy an activity requires, the more calories you’ll burn. You may burn more calories sitting in a sauna than you would by sitting on the couch because your body has to work harder to maintain a steady body temperature. However, you won’t burn as many calories as you would through the same amount of time spent doing aerobic exercise, such as walking or running.
How Long Should You Stay In A Sauna
According to research, twenty minutes is a good amount of time to stay in a sauna to reap the benefits. A cohort study on Finnish men found that sauna sessions lasting 19 minutes or more elicited a more robust protective effect on lowering mortality rates than sessions lasting between 11 and 18 minutes. Most additional research has been done on 15 to 30 minute-sauna sessions, which have shown positive results and few adverse effects.
However, keep in mind that the longer you remain in the sauna, the more important it is to rehydrate to replace lost fluids and electrolytes. If you’re feeling faint or unwell while sitting in the sauna, leave immediately.
Additionally, while one sauna session may benefit your health, research supports using a sauna multiple times per week for short durations to reap maximum health benefits. If you have specific questions about using a sauna or if it’s safe for your unique physical condition, talk to your healthcare provider.