Sauna Bathing for Health and Performance: Benefits and Guidelines

Believe it or not, using a sauna can and SHOULD be more than just a boujee day at the spa, because sauna usage is tied to many health benefits (some which you may find surprising). The concept of sweating in high heat (or sweat houses) has been around for thousands of years, and for good reason. When used safely, it can elicit numerous changes, ranging from mental and physical health to increased performance and a longer lifespan.

OK, EXPLAIN HOw.

In a nut shell, repeated sauna use conditions the body for future heat stressors. As the body acclimates to heat, adaptations that increase our tolerances can result in protective cellular changes. We know heat shock proteins (HSP) are important for immune function, cell signals and regulation, and HSP responses occur with sauna usage to protect the cell from damage. Pretty cool right?

SAUNA BENEFITS

Cardiovascular benefits are well known. Sauna use will lower blood pressure, so naturally it makes for happy blood vessels. So if you are at risk for heart disease or issues, diabetes or high cholesterol, I wouldn’t sleep on this particular intervention. Many researchers suggest that it can also provide cardiovascular conditioning, and although I wouldn’t ever say that the sauna should replace exercise, it can be a great compliment to a fitness routine as the high temperatures can increase similar heart rates achieved with physical exercise. 

Immune function improvements and association with reduction in pneumonia risk, colds and more have been shown. 

Hormone and metabolic function benefits have been shown as sauna can promote the release of growth hormone. 

Muscle mass maintenance and recovery as well as increased endurance for athletic performance have been shown. 

Increased longevity has been studied and sauna usage can increase lifespan while improving overall health. Recovery among athletes has been studied, and although ambigious, there is some data that points to neuromuscular recovery post performance. 

Cognitive and mental health benefits can come from sauna bathing, which include cognitive function, mental focus, decreased depression and more. 

Inflammation benefits can occur as sauna reduces levels of c-reactive protein (lower levels of CRP have been shown with greater frequency of sauna usage).

Detoxification can occur as sweating can facilitate eliminating certain toxins. 

Reducing stress is also a well-known benefit. Improving circulation can promote a relaxation response.

Sauna prescription:

It’s important to note that regardless of the type of sauna or the humidity level, the effects on the body will be similar. I advise you to start small, and let your body adjust to the frequency and duration that you choose. You may also want to consider incorporating the sauna immediately after exercise for added benefits.

I sauna 4-5 times a week for 20-30 minutes at 150 -170 degrees. 

Studies show us that using the sauna 4-7 times a week have greater cardiovascular and longevity benefits, and can reduce the risk of developing certain diseases (dementia, Alzheimer’s) when compared to only 2-3 times a week. Studies also show is that 19 minutes or longer has a greater effect on lowering mortality rate when compared to less than 18 minutes. In general, most benefits listed above, are enhanced with a longer duration and frequency. That’s not to say that a single session weekly doesn’t promote benefits, because it does, but the more often you use it, the greater the benefits will be.

Safety and Considerations:

  • Don’t use alcohol, drugs or certain medications before entering the sauna
  • Have someone watch you at all times 
  • Do not exceed 30-40 minutes 
  • Drink water before and after
  • Ask your doctor before using
  • If you feel dizzy or lightheaded, exit the sauna
  • Use a good moisturizer for your skin, because it can be drying
  • Do not use the sauna before exercise, even the slightest amount of dehydration can impact performance
  • The hot tub or shower is not a substitution because of the temperature

If you need a link to a sauna, here is one similar to the one I use in my home. Have more questions? Shoot me a message.

Happy training friends!

Xo,

Nat

References:

Mero, A., Tornberg, J., Mantykoski, M., Puurtinen, R. (2015). Effects of far-infrared sauna bathing on recovery from strength and endurance training sessions in men. Springerplus  7;4:321. doi: 10.1186/s40064-015-1093-5.

Laukkanen, T., Khan, H.,  Zaccardi, F., Laukkanen, J. A. (2015). Association Between Sauna Bathing and Fatal Cardiovascular and All-Cause Mortality Events JAMA Internal Medicine, 175: 542. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8187. 

Laukkanen, T., Kunutsor, S., Kauhanen, J, and Laukkanen, J. A. (2017). Age and Aging doi:10.1093/ageing/afw212.

Laukkanen, J. A., & Laukkanen, T. (2017). Sauna bathing and systemic inflammation European Journal of Epidemiology: 33, 351–53. doi:10.1007/s10654-017-0335-y. 

Leppäluoto, J., P. Huttunen, J. Hirvonen, A. Väänänen, M. Tuominen, and J. Vuori (1986). Endocrine effects of repeated sauna bathing. Acta Physiologica Scandinavica: 128, 467–70. doi:10.1111/j.1748-1716.1986.tb08000.x. 

Selsby, J. T., S. Rother, S. Tsuda, O. Pracash, J. Quindry, and S. L. Dodd (2007). Intermittent hyperthermia enhances skeletal muscle regrowth and attenuates oxidative damage following reloading. Journal of Applied Physiology: 1702–7. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00722.2006. 

Podstawski, R., Tomasz, B., Michał, B., Dariusz, C., Stefan, M., and Piotr, M.  Sauna-Induced Body Mass Loss in Young Sedentary Women and Men. The Scientific World Journal: 1–7. doi:10.1155/2014/307421. 

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