Many EōS locations offer saunas. Sure, spending a few minutes in the soothing heat feels great, but what’s the connection between saunas and fitness? What does a sauna do for you? Are saunas just a nice gym perk, or do they offer health benefits?
Hitting the sauna after a workout has become an integral part of many fitness routines and for good reason. The benefits of a sauna after a workout goes beyond anecdotes– there is science that supports these advantages. From enhanced recovery to improved cardiovascular health, the sauna offers several advantages that can elevate your post-workout experience.
The gym sauna isn’t just an extra Membership perk. It may help you become fitter and healthier.
SAUNAS – WHAT’S ACTUALLY GOING ON?
The basic principle behind a sauna involves heating a confined space, typically made of wood, to produce dry or wet heat that induces sweating and promotes the dilation of blood vessels. The heat and dry air of the sauna will cause you to sweat heavily as your body attempts to cool itself down. In fact, you can lose around a pint of sweat in a relatively short amount of time, according to Medical News Today.
What does a sauna do for you? The process of sweating can help improve circulation, relax muscles and provide a range of health benefits. Many of the sauna benefits after a workout come from the following physiological changes.
BENEFIT #1 – MUSCLE RECOVERY
A tough workout can cause muscle soreness over the next few days. Sore muscles are no one’s idea of fun, and they can also slow down your fitness progress if the soreness keeps you out of the gym. While there are several great ways to reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), saunas can also help.
The heat from the sauna causes the blood vessels to dilate which promotes increased blood flow to muscles. This improved circulation helps relax muscle fibers and reduce tension. As muscles warm up and loosen, you can experience relief from stiffness and discomfort.
BENEFIT #2 – RELIEVE MUSCLE TENSION
Applying heat is a great way to help your muscles relax and relieve tension. A 2021 study found that the benefits of spending time in the sauna are observable not only in the entire body, but also at the cellular level and can be experienced after a single session.
As blood flow increases from the heat, the supply of nutrients and oxygen to muscles also increases. This influx of nutrients aids in the repair of micro-tears and promotes muscle recovery. Additionally, the warm temperature of the sauna helps to relax muscle fibers, reducing tension and stiffness.
It’s important to note that while saunas can provide relief from mild muscle tension, they may not always be a substitute for professional medical treatment for more severe muscular issues. If you have persistent or severe muscle tension, it’s advisable to consult a healthcare professional or a qualified physical therapist for proper evaluation and treatment recommendations.
BENEFIT #3 – BETTER CARDIOVASCULAR HEALTH
Though the sauna is not recommended for individuals with certain heart issues, spending time in the sauna’s heat may help improve heart health and stave off heart disease.
A paper published by the Mayo Clinic reviewed all existing evidence of the sauna’s ability to improve heart health. It determined that “beyond pleasure and relaxation, emerging evidence suggests that sauna bathing has several health benefits, which include “reduction in the risk of vascular diseases such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease (CVD), stroke and neurocognitive diseases.” Additionally, a study of over 2,000 men in Finland (a country famous for its sauna affinity) found a link between sauna use and a lower risk of dying from heart disease as well as “all-cause mortality.” In other words, spending time in the sauna decreased their chances of dying of any other cause.
(Note: One of the best things you can do to protect your heart health is to engage in regular cardiovascular exercise as long as you have the green light from your doctor.)
BENEFIT #4 – WEIGHT LOSS
Do sauna benefits include weight loss? If you were to hop on a scale before a sauna session, you’d probably get a lower number when you come out. However, any immediate weight loss after spending time in a sauna is due to losing “water weight” through sweating. That might be helpful if you need to weigh in for a boxing match, but not if you want to lower your overall body fat.
The jury is still out on whether saunas can help you shed real pounds. Some sources call it a myth, while others, like the authors of this study out of Binghamton University, found a connection between increasing core body temperature and losing body fat. The study found that subjects who used a sauna three times a week for 45 minutes at a time lost up to 4% body fat over the course of four months. If you are sitting in a sauna, you can burn approximately 1.5-2 times more calories than you would if you were sitting in a room with a normal temperature.
BENEFIT #5 – STRESS RELIEF
One of the most immediate sauna benefits you’ll experience when you settle down on the wooden bench and feel the heat envelope you is a deep sense of relief. Spending time in the sauna is often enjoyable, relaxing and even meditative. As the tension in your muscles relaxes, you may find your stress ebbing away.
Chronic stress is linked to a wide range of negative physical, emotional, and psychological symptoms. Therefore, stress-relieving activities like using the sauna or exercising can help safeguard your overall health and well-being.
BENEFIT #6 – IMMUNE SYSTEM SUPPORT
Some research suggests that regular sauna use can enhance the immune system. The mild stress response caused by exposure to heat can stimulate the production of white blood cells, which play a vital role in defending the body against infections.
Improved circulation can also facilitate the transport of immune cells to various tissues, potentially improving the immune response.
BENEFIT #7 – INCREASED ENDORPHINS
Being in the sauna can be a nice pick-me-up. The heat and relaxation from a sauna session can trigger the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural “feel-good” chemicals that play a role in reducing pain and promoting feelings of pleasure and well-being.
The increase in heart rate and circulation experienced in a sauna is similar to the cardiovascular effects of mild exercise. Exercise is known to stimulate the release of endorphins and the sauna-induced elevation of heart rate might replicate this effect to some extent.
BENEFIT #8 – SKIN CLEANSING
Want glowing skin? The sauna can help! As sweat and impurities are expelled from the skin, pores are cleared and the complexion becomes more vibrant. Enhanced blood circulation also provides skin cells with vital nutrients for a healthier appearance.
Sweating can also help remove excess oil, allowing the skin’s natural moisture balance to be maintained more effectively.
BENEFIT #9 – REDUCED RISK OF CERTAIN HEALTH CONDITIONS
Sauna use has been associated with potential benefits that could contribute to a reduced risk of certain health issues including stroke, high blood pressure and heart disease.
The saunas’ benefits, such as improved blood vessel function and circulation, may reduce the risk of stroke. The relaxation and stress relief derived from saunas may further influence this benefit. Enhanced circulation from sauna sessions often results in lower blood pressure both during and afterward.The cardiovascular conditioning resulting from sauna use might also positively influence heart health.
However, it is important to note that long-term effects of sauna use on blood pressure regulation may vary among individuals. While saunas can have positive effects on certain cardiovascular and metabolic markers, they are just one aspect of a comprehensive approach to health.
BENEFIT #10 – BOOSTS MENTAL HEALTH
The sauna provides a space for introspection and mindfulness. Engaging in relaxation techniques, deep breathing or even meditation in the sauna can further contribute to the release of endorphins. If you’re the type to enjoy the company of others, simply spending time with others in a calming environment can improve social connections and boost mood.
At EōS, we take mental health seriously, which is why we have several amenities that benefit our Members’ mental health.
DO SAUNA FITNESS BENEFITS INCLUDE DETOXIFICATION?
Some people and institutions believe that spending time in a sauna room can help detoxify your body. The thinking goes that copious sweating will release toxins in your body, such as metals, alcohol and nicotine. Maybe you’ve even heard that a good hangover cure is to “sweat out the alcohol.”
The truth is that while sweating may play a small role in helping to remove contaminants from the body, the real detoxifiers in your body are your liver, kidneys and lungs.
SHOULD YOU VISIT THE SAUNA BEFORE OR AFTER A WORKOUT?
It might make sense to hit your gym’s sauna before you get hot and sweaty from your workout. But, timing is everything. The best time to hit the sauna is post-workout. After a grueling session at the gym, the muscles are yearning for some TLC. When your body is already warm from exertion, the transition into the sauna feels seamless. This warm-to-hot progression enhances the overall experience, allowing you to ease into the heat and reap therewards without any abrupt discomfort.
It can be dangerous to visit the sauna before a workout. The heat of the sauna will relax and loosen your muscles, which can put you at a greater risk of pulling or tearing them during a workout. Additionally, you’ll be more dehydrated and at a greater risk of overheating. You’ll also feel more tired after sweating it out in the sauna. That’s no way to start your workout.
Save the sauna for after your workout and consider it a reward for all the hard work you just completed. Before you head over to the sauna, make sure you understand some important sauna rules.
USE GOOD SAUNA ETIQUETTE
Just as there are unwritten rules in any setting, the sauna has its own unspoken code of conduct. You can do whatever you want in your own personal sauna, but when visiting the gym sauna, you need to follow rules of good etiquette to keep the sauna clean and respect your fellow sauna-mates.
– Shower Before Entering
Hygiene is key. A quick rinse before entering the sauna isn’t just courteous, it’s essential. Do not head to the sauna directly after your workout. It’s a small room and body smells can get uncomfortable fast. Instead, take a quick shower to wash off your sweat and workout grime.
– Cover Yourself
In some countries, it’s commonplace to be unclothed in a sauna. Unless explicitly stated otherwise, wear a bathing suit or a towel before entering the sauna.
Spending time in a sauna is a restful experience, and many people prefer to enjoy the sauna in silence. Don’t bug your neighbors and don’t strike up a loud conversation with your gym buddy if other people are trying to enjoy the sauna in peace.
– Leave Your Electronics in Your Locker
Extreme heat is not a great environment for your expensive phone, tablet or smartwatch. Keep your electronics in your gym locker and enjoy some screen-free time in the sauna. This is a great opportunity to practice mindfulness or meditation or to simply let your busy brain relax.
BEYOND THE HEAT: HYDRATION AND COOLING DOWN
As the sauna session draws to a close, there’s a golden opportunity to replenish. The heat in saunas can lead to significant fluid loss through sweating, increasing the risk of dehydration. It’s crucial to stay properly hydrated before, during and after sauna sessions.
It is also important to cool down gradually. A quick cool shower or a gentle walk will help your body to adjust to the temperature shift. This transition helps prevent abrupt shocks to your system.
Spending time in a sauna is generally good for your health, but it can present a level of risk if you don’t use it correctly. A good rule of thumb on how long you should stay in the sauna is 20 minutes or less. If you are new to the sauna, try spending five or 10 minutes inside during your first few visits to build up your heat tolerance. Prolonged exposure to high temperatures can lead to heat stress or heat-related illnesses, especially in individuals who are sensitive to heat or have pre-existing medical conditions Here are some things to keep in mind:
- While saunas may temporarily lower blood pressure, individuals with low blood pressure or those taking medications that affect blood pressure should use saunas cautiously and consult a healthcare professional.
- Individuals with respiratory conditions like asthma may find it challenging to breathe in the hot and humid sauna environment. High temperatures can potentially trigger breathing difficulties.
- Pregnant women should avoid using saunas, especially during the first trimester, due to the potential risks associated with elevated body temperature.
- People with certain heart conditions, such as heart disease or irregular heart rhythms, should be cautious with sauna use.
SHOULD YOU ADD SAUNA TIME TO YOUR GYM ROUTINE?
If you’ve never given much thought to the gym sauna, it might be time to give it a try. Anchoring is a powerful technique to add good habits to your life. By spending time in the sauna room after each workout, you can anchor this new, positive habit. Enjoy your sauna fitness benefits by finding a gym with a sauna near you.