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9 Sauna Benefits: Risks, Tips, and Guidelines

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Most of us will probably think that the only benefits of a sauna are for relaxing and resting. That’s not true! There are a lot of advantages to using a sauna, including boosting the health of your heart and offering some much-needed stress relief.

Before you rush off to the nearest sauna, there are also some important guidelines that you need to know about too, but don’t sweat it because we’ll be covering everything you need to know about the sauna benefits and rules in this article.

These are the subjects we’ll discuss:

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What Are Saunas?

detox sauna benefits

A typical sauna is a room that’s been heated to around 70 - 100 degrees celsius. Saunas have always been widely popular in Scandinavian countries, but their popularity continues to grow across the world.

Humidity plays a major role in how a sauna works. Traditional Scandinavian style saunas utilise roughly 10 - 20% humidity, but in a Turkish sauna room that can be much higher. Humidity levels in Turkish saunas can even get towards 100%. Wet saunas use heat and humidity to create steam, which has a relaxing and purifying effect on the body.

The dry heat in a sauna will cause your body to sweat and your heart rate to rise. Many of the benefits of sitting in a sauna are linked to sweating (which has a detoxifying effect) and raised heart rate, which can sometimes be high enough to simulate physical exercise. 

Using so-called “sweating treatment” as a health practice is nothing new. Researchers estimate that it was used by the Mayans up to 3000 years ago, and it’s been popular in countries like Finland for thousands of years too. Many Finish homes come with private saunas either attached to the property or nearby, and the benefits of sauna room relaxation are widely known.

There are plenty of different types of saunas to choose from, ranging from the extra steamy wet sauna to the more modern, infrared variety. With an infrared sauna, benefits and disadvantages are frequently discussed, but some studies suggest that infrared directs an impressive 80% of heat onto the body, much more than a traditional sauna!

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What Are The Benefits Of A Sauna?

#1 Improves Cardiovascular Health

infrared sauna health benefits

One of the most well known and widely discussed sauna benefits is how it can boost your cardiovascular health. 

There are two specific reasons for this, and while a sauna isn’t an adequate replacement for a rigorous fitness routine, it’s certainly a great way to support your heart alongside exercise. Many people choose to relax in a sauna after exercise (we’ll talk more about how steam rooms can enhance recovery later), and when paired with fitness activities sauna, it's great for heart health.

Another great way to help your heart is to participate in cardio and aerobic activities.

The benefits of a hot sauna are all linked to how it makes you sweat. As the temperature in the sauna rises, your body's natural reactions kick in to cool you down. This produces sweat, but it also raises your heart rate quite considerably. 

Studies have shown that the increase in heart rate is equatable to moderate exercise, so it can certainly make your heart stronger in the long term. Again, nobody is suggesting that you can substitute exercise for sitting in a sauna, but there are clear and obvious benefits attached to raising your heart rate.

Along similar lines, one of the most striking medical benefits of a sauna is how it boosts circulation and blood flow. Not only does your heart beat faster, pumping more blood, but the heat of the sauna encourages your blood vessels to open, helping blood to flow more easily. 

That has a range of benefits, including huge and positive implications for heart health.

Sauna’s heart-healthy benefits are backed up by science. One particularly long term study tracked how many times men and women used a sauna each week. It found that those who enjoyed a sauna session at least once per week had a radically reduced risk of dying from heart disease. That’s a striking statistic and one that certainly accounts for the sauna’s growing popularity around the world.

#2 Aids Weight Loss

benefits of sauna and steam room for weight loss

Sauna is an essentially sedentary activity so it might seem counterintuitive to imagine that it can help you lose weight, but the benefits of sauna and steam room for weight loss are impressive. 

Many opt for steam treatment with the sole aim of shedding the pounds, and there’s no doubt that a sauna (paired with a healthy diet and physical exercise) can really give your weight loss efforts a tangible boost.

The exact mechanism behind this is linked to how a sauna room raises your heart rate. As the temperature rises and your body tries to cool itself down, your heart rate increases, and with it your metabolism. That’s exactly what happens during physical exercise, and a raised metabolism means that you are burning calories and losing weight.

It is estimated that sauna benefits weight loss so much that spending just 20 minutes in a sauna room can burn an impressive 500 calories! 

Not bad, considering you’ll be getting a whole host of other health benefits too. To boost the weight loss effects try incorporating some herbs and spices for weight loss into your diet too!

Stress is often a contributing factor to weight gain, and a sauna can help there as well. Sitting in a relaxing steam room is notoriously calming and used by millions of people to unwind. It will help stress and anxiety fall away which can, in turn, help you lose weight.

Being overweight is obviously a risk factor in a number of areas, not least heart disease. All the sauna weight loss benefits in isolation are enough to pay a visit, but if you consider them alongside improved cardiovascular outlook then it’s clear that sauna treatment is one of the best ways to look after yourself.

#3 Removes Toxins From The Body

benefits of sauna after a workout

The detoxifying effects of saunas are legendary, and users often report a general feeling of wellbeing after a session. 

Sweating is a crucial bodily function but most people don’t do enough of it. Apart from exercise, our daily routine offers little opportunity for us to sweat, especially for people who work long hours at their desk or in an office. 

One of the most important benefits of using a sauna is that it will make you sweat, which cleanses the body.

You might not realise it, but you come into contact with hundreds of toxins every day. Some of these are less harmful than others, but even compounds like lead and cadmium can be present in the skin, along with dirt, debris and, of course, dead skin tissue. These can build up over time and it’s difficult to remove them with a simple surface clean like a shower.

That’s where sweating comes in. 

If you’re looking for a detox, a sauna benefits you by making your body produce copious amounts of sweat. Sweat’s primary function is to cool you down, but it’s also excellent at flushing toxins from deep within your skin (that’s also why sauna benefits skin health so much). 

Quite simply, the more you sweat, the more unpleasant toxins will be purged from your body, and taking to the sauna often will ensure that they never get the chance to build up again.

Being able to flush these toxins out of your system is one of the biggest infrared sauna health benefits, and it’s why users report a feel-good, post sauna glow. 

Your skin and body are never purer than after you’ve been in a sauna, and there’s no more efficient way of flushing toxins out of your system. All you need to do, after all, is sit still and let the steam take care of the rest!

Taking milk thistle will also help neutralise toxins in your body.

#4 Elevates Brain Function

infrared sauna benefits and disadvantages

We’ve talked about how great sauna treatment is for the heart, but you might be surprised to learn that one of the most profound benefits of going to a sauna is how it can increase cognitive function! 

One study involving 2,300 individuals over the course of 20 years even found that using a sauna between 4-7 times per week dramatically cuts your risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Another way to reduce the risk of cognitive diseases is to eat the common eggplant - find out more in OriGym’s eggplant nutrition guide!

A dry sauna benefits your brain in quite a few ways. Sweating and boosting your heart rate play a big role again. The sauna health benefits also include how it makes your heart work hard without you having to do anything physical. That immediately pumps more oxygenated blood to the brain, which is excellent for brain health and boosts function.

Moreover, the longer you remain in the sauna (the dementia study looked at people who stayed in the steam for 19 minutes) the more your blood vessels relax, leading to increased blood flow and better circulation. That, too, ensures that more oxygenated blood reaches your brain, keeping it in good condition. 

It might seem surprising that the benefits of going in a sauna include brain health, increased cognition and lowered risk of developing dementia, but those benefits are linked to the core processes involved with the treatment. 

Sweating, raising your heart rate and increasing your circulation all combine to help the brain.

Obviously, your mental state plays a big role in this too. Many people use saunas primarily to relax and destress, which inevitably enables them to think more clearly, sleep better and generally enjoy superior cognitive function, free from the burden of anxiety.

#5 Boosts The Immune System

sauna benefits hair

There is evidence to suggest that the medical benefits of the sauna also includes reducing the symptoms of the flu and colds. It suggests that one of the sauna health benefits is a boosted immune system and a better chance of warding off illness. 

Steam treatment has always been anecdotally linked to a bolstered immune system, which is one of the reasons that it’s been popular for thousands of years, but now science is backing up the claims.

As the temperature in the sauna room rises, your body reacts in a number of ways. Your heart rate increases and you begin to sweat, but a less noticeable process also occurs. Your body begins to produce white blood cells that fight against diseases. 

Those cells are the foundation of a properly functioning immune system and will protect you from both serious and mild illness.

That explains why people who use the sauna frequently experience fewer coughs, colds and bouts of influenza. Better still, the health benefits of sauna room treatments are equally applicable to those who are already ill. Not only will an increased white blood cell count help you to fight off the illness more quickly, but a sauna will also relieve some of the symptoms.

Steam is notoriously effective at relieving congestion. It opens the sinuses, airways, and can even help you breathe easier. That’s one of the biggest benefits of sauna room treatment for people suffering from the common cold or any kind of mucus congestion. 

If you’re looking for other ways to boost your breathing and ease congestion then take a look at the top foods for lung health.

Some of the major health benefits from a sauna are reserved for the immune system and illness, so it's a great choice if you're feeling under the weather.

OriGym have a huge range of helpful health and nutrition guides, check out the ones below:

#6 Provides Clearer Skin

benefits of using the sauna after a workout

Saunas are one of the oldest skin cleansing treatments in the world, and they remain one of the best. There are plenty of expensive skin treatments available, some more invasive than others, but nothing beats the ease and efficacy of steam treatment. 

Clearing your skin is one of the great health benefits of sauna bath treatments, and the effects can be especially pronounced for people suffering from acne or frequent breakouts.

Heat and sweat are key. Saunas facilitate a kind of “deep sweating,” which is great for purging toxins from your skin. It’s natural for skin cells to die, but these can build up on live skin, leading to breakouts and other problems. 

Oils can be an issue too. Oil trapped in skin follicles is a major cause of acne and pimples. The sauna skin benefits occur through sweating which gets rid of both dead cells and excess oil, leaving your skin in peak condition.

Incidentally, a sauna benefits hair too! 

Increased blood flow to the hair follicles stimulates hair growth, and the heat from the sauna causes your hair cuticles to open slightly wider. That allows them to receive more moisture from the steam, and it can compound the effects of hair products like conditioner. Wider follicles mean that your hair can absorb more conditioner, making it softer and more lustrous. 

Did you know that coconut water can also benefit both your skin and your hair?

This is true of all kinds of sauna, so an infrared sauna benefits the skin just as much as its more traditional, steam-based counterpart. That’s because sweating is so important. 

It removes toxins, debris and any excess oil from the skin, cleansing it and protecting you from breakouts and acne. With an ultraviolet sauna, the benefits are the same too, so whatever type you choose will keep your skin looking and feeling healthy. 

#7 Supports Post-workout Recovery

sauna vs steam room benefits

One of the biggest benefits of having a sauna is post-workout recovery. Saunas are an excellent way to speed up your recovery process after an intense workout, and since they’re also capable of raising your heart rate and burning some additional calories, they’re fantastic to incorporate into your exercise routine. 

Saunas are so popular for recovery, in fact, that they’re widely used by athletes around the world. 

The benefits of using the sauna after a workout are manifold and varied. The high temperatures involved cause your body to release endorphins. These feel-good hormones have a pain-relieving effect and are especially good for soothing muscles after a difficult workout. 

Using a foam roller either before or after a workout can also help soothe the muscles.

They can help to relieve joint and muscle pain, which is why so many people take to the sauna directly after intense physical exercise.

The circulatory benefits of a wet sauna also play a part. As the heat of the sauna relaxes and widens your blood vessels, blood flow increases. This means that more oxygenated blood reaches your muscles, helping them to heal more quickly after a workout. 

Adequate blood supply is absolutely crucial to a quick post-workout recovery, and ensuring that your muscles are properly oxygenated is an effective way to shorten your recovery times and get back to working out.

There are also studies proving that when men use a sauna after exercising the oxidative stress caused during a workout is significantly reduced. This ultimately reduces muscle recovery times meaning you can get back in the gym much quicker!

On an even more basic level, saunas are calming. While this might not seem like an important factor post-workout, it can have a big effect. The steam, heat and humidity help your muscles to relax, relieving tension. 

This has the additional benefit of helping lactic acid to disperse, which is the main cause of cramps and soreness the next day. The benefits of the sauna after a workout are profound, and one of the best reasons to seek out steam treatment.

#8 Stress Relief 

wet sauna health benefits

The overwhelming majority of people who use saunas regularly do so to relax at the end of a long day. In countries where saunas are traditional, they’re part of everyday life. 

The heat and steam of the sauna are immediately calming, and many people find that by sitting in a sauna they can “switch off” from the stresses of the world.

Many of the processes explored on this list are great for relaxation, too. Increased circulation, for example, pushes more blood to the brain, which can help with anxiety. It also means that your muscles receive more oxygen so they’ll relax as well. Muscle tension is a big indicator of stress, but you’ll feel it melt away as your muscles unwind amongst the heat. 

Best of all, heat releases endorphins, which will naturally make you feel better.

Many people weigh up the sauna vs steam room benefits, but in truth, both of these sauna types offer the same level of relaxation, and which you choose comes down to personal preference. A traditional sauna utilises dry heat, whereas a steam room is much more humid. Whichever you choose, relaxation is guaranteed!

Studies have linked sauna to improved sleep, and it can also be part of a relaxing social scene! Many countries use saunas as a place to meet, and the warm, humid environment is perfect for laid back chats and socialisation. More generally, researchers have found that people who use a sauna regularly are less likely to suffer from depression and adapt to life changes more easily than those who don’t.

#9 Improved Quality Of Sleep

ultraviolet sauna benefits

It’s a well-known fact that one of the generous benefits of sauna room treatment is a profound and sometimes striking effect on sleep quality. 

This has been borne out by plenty of scientific studies, and sauna aficionados often time their sessions for just before they go to bed, maximising those sleep-inducing effects. Many people who try saunas for the first time are stunned by the sleep experience that follows.

There are a few factors that explain how the sauna benefits sleep. 

First and foremost, the relaxing experience of a sauna (coupled with solitude) is usually enough to help a person destress after a long day, which will lead to a better quality of sleep. Saunas are also a proven way to combat anxiety and depression, two of the biggest enemies of quality sleep.

The benefits run deeper than that, though. If you're using the sauna as a sleep aid, it’s best to take the heat treatment just before bed. It’s all to do with temperature adjustment. When the sauna raises your temperature, it’s natural that your body will then try and lower it again. 

This natural temperature readjustment, which occurs just after you leave the sauna, is what sends you off to sleep. The temperature drop from warm to cool has a tranquillising effect, and that’s more than enough to induce sleep. 

Add to this the fact that saunas release a dose of relaxing endorphins, and it’s easy to understand why so many people turn to the sauna room to improve not just the quality of their sleep, but how quickly they manage to fall asleep. 

Dry and wet sauna health benefits are wide-ranging, but improving the quality of sleep is fundamental, and that can have a positive effect on other areas of your health too.

FAQs

How To Use A Sauna

health benefits of sauna bath

Due to the nature of saunas, there are a few gym etiquette guidelines that should be followed.

It is usually recommended that you shower before going into the sauna as the high temperatures induce sweat: wet skin will cause perfumes or and smells to become more pungent which can be unpleasant or overwhelming. Make sure you dry off before you head in though, as this speeds up the perspiration process.

When you enter the sauna you must enter quickly, ensuring you shut the door firmly behind you, making sure that the heat or the steam remains in the room. Make sure you take a sheet with you to sit on and you have removed all of your clothes. The sheet is necessary for hygiene purposes, and you don’t want sweat all over your clothes!

After leaving the sauna your body will need to acclimate to regular temperatures again; sit for a while in a normal temperature room or cool down in the shower. Make sure you’re stopped sweating otherwise you’ll ruin your clothes.

How Long To Stay In A Sauna

benefits of sitting in a sauna

The benefits of sitting in a sauna will be felt regardless of whether you spend 10 minutes or an hour in the sauna, although the advantages will be heightened the longer you spend in there. However, while there are no strict time limits for how long you can spend there, there are some general guidelines.

While sitting in a sauna has become somewhat of a social event in traditional places such as Finland, where they often spend up to an hour or longer in the sauna, It is generally advised that you don’t spend more than 20 minutes in a sauna at a time. 

The amount of time you sit in the sauna depends entirely on your own body. Beginners will need to build up a tolerance to the high temperatures: if it's your first time in a sauna then spend no more than 10 to 12 minutes in the sauna at a time. After a few times, you’ll be able to gradually increase the minutes. 

If you’re looking to gain the benefits of using the sauna after a workout then you need to wait at least 10 minutes after exercising before heading into the sauna and don’t spend any longer than 15 minutes at a time. 

Practising dynamic stretching can also help reduce post-workout recovery times!

Plus, if you’ve just eaten a large meal then you need to wait at least an hour before using the sauna.

What To Wear In A Sauna

infrared sauna benefits

While it is often recommended to use a sauna naked, understandably that will not be an option for a lot of people! 

That’s why it's common practice for sauna goers to wear a clean towel during their sessions. You can also wear clothes or swimwear in the sauna, although they shouldn’t be tight-fitting. Shower shoes or flip flops are acceptable as long as you take them off as soon as you enter the sauna. 

There are a few things that you shouldn’t wear or take into a sauna, including:

  • Shoes - these are often dirty which will be unhygienic in a sauna.
  • Jewellery or anything metal - saunas get hot and so will metal, which could cause injury.
  • Clothes (and workout clothes) worn throughout the day as they will also be dirty and the heat in the sauna will loosen dirt which will get onto your skin.

It is imperative that you only wear clean clothes or a clean towel into the sauna. Anything that has already been worn will leech dirt onto your skin and onto the sauna benches.

Before You Go!

So you landed on this article to answer the question of “what are the benefits of a sauna?” and now you know: removing toxins from your body, improving the health of your skin, providing some much-needed stress relief and much more!

Be sure to follow the rules and guidelines set out by the sauna, particularly ensuring that your clothes or towels are clean.

We’ve mentioned a few of the medical benefits of a sauna after a workout here but you can learn a lot more about exercise and health by becoming a personal trainer. OriGym offers a variety of fantastic REPS and CIMSPA accredited personal training packages, so check them out! 

Download our latest course prospectus to find out more about the full range of courses.

Sources:

  1. Ernst, E., Pecho, E., Wirz, P. and Saradeth, T. (1990). Regular Sauna Bathing and the Incidence of Common Colds. Annals of Medicine, 22(4), pp.225–227.
  2. Ketelhut, S. and Ketelhut, R.G. (2019). The Blood Pressure and Heart Rate during Sauna Bath Correspond to Cardiac Responses during Submaximal Dynamic Exercise. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 44, pp.218–222.
  3. Laukkanen, T., Kunutsor, S., Kauhanen, J. and Laukkanen, J.A. (2017). Sauna Bathing Is Inversely Associated with Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease in middle-aged Finnish Men. Age and Ageing, [online] 46(2), pp.245–249.
  4. Laukkanen, T., Kunutsor, S.K., Khan, H., Willeit, P., Zaccardi, F. and Laukkanen, J.A. (2018). Sauna Bathing Is Associated with Reduced Cardiovascular Mortality and Improves Risk Prediction in Men and women: a Prospective Cohort Study. BMC Medicine, 16(1). 
  5. Sutkowy, P., Woźniak, A., Boraczyński, T., Mila-Kierzenkowska, C. and Boraczyński, M. (2013). The Effect of a Single Finnish Sauna Bath after Aerobic Exercise on the Oxidative Status in Healthy Men. Scandinavian Journal of Clinical and Laboratory Investigation, 74(2), pp.89–94.
  6. Urponen, H., Vuori, I., Hasan, J. and Partinen, M. (1988). Self-evaluations of Factors Promoting and Disturbing sleep: an Epidemiological Survey in Finland. Social Science & Medicine, 26(4), pp.443–450.

Written by Dee Hammond-Blackburn

Fitness Content Executive, OriGym

Join Dee on Facebook at the OriGym Facebook Group

Dee holds a BA (Hons) in English Literature, and is currently finishing her MA in Marketing Communications and Branding from Edge Hill University. Her passion for fitness and content writing brought her to OriGym, and she has since become a qualified Personal Trainer and a Sports Nutrition Specialist. Combining her skills in fitness and writing, Dee has a professional interest in fitness blogging, content creation, and social media. Outside of her writing role Dee enjoys reading, healthy cooking, and playing football with her dalmation.

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