Saunas are an enclosed heated room used for their therapeutic benefits. Saunas are usually located in health clubs or spas, alongside gyms. As such, many people use the sauna after a workout. But if you are one of the people wondering “what is the point of a sauna?”, this article is for you. We’re going to take a deep dive into the benefits of a sauna after a workout, and how you should use it for best results.
How does a sauna work?
There are two main types of saunas:
- Traditional (wet) sauna - Traditional saunas create dry heat by burning wood in a strove, heating the air in the room.
- Infrared therapy (dry) sauna - Infrared saunas work by directly heating your body. The infrared energy heats the body to increase your core temperature.
In short, a sauna makes you hot. The heat increases your core body temperature which in turn triggers your body’s thermoregulatory system. Your brain then initiates ‘cooling’ mechanisms via the central nervous system. This is predominantly done by activating the sympathetic nervous system, hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal hormonal axis, and the cardiovascular effects.
Some examples of the cardiovascular effects include:
- Increased heart rate
- Increased blood flow to the surface of the skin causing redness
- Cardiac output
- And, most well known - sweating.
Sweating is the release of liquid from your sweat glands, predominantly from your armpits, head, hands, and feet. However, if you’ve been in a sauna, you might have noticed that you start sweating all over your body. This shows that your body is fighting hard to cool down.
Sweat is responsible for cooling your body down by vaporizing heat. Your increased body temperature converts sweat into vapor, helping you to cool down. In a sauna, your body can’t cool down because the temperature is usually in excess of 40° Celsius or 104° Fahrenheit. That’s why you can’t spend too much time in a sauna; you’d overheat! Sipping water throughout your sauna session can prevent dehydration by replenishing fluid loss. Click here to shop the best water bottles for a sauna.
What are the benefits of sauna?
- Fight inflammation
When your body temperature rises in a sauna, you produce heat shock proteins. This is your cell’s first line of defense when exposed to stress, like high temperatures. The heat shock proteins support DNA repair, helping to protect your cells against damage. These proteins do so by increasing the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines to fight inflammation and reactive oxygen species (oxidative stress).
- Increased nitric oxide bioavailability
Nitric oxide is a vasodilator, allowing your blood vessels to dilate and constrict. Nitric oxide availability has been shown to improve blood pressure and thus, heart health. Plus, nitric oxide availability is also linked to physical performance. So if you’re looking for ways to improve workout performance, a regular sauna can give you that edge.
- Increased insulin sensitivity
Insulin is the hormone responsible for the uptake of energy from your bloodstream. If you have proper insulin sensitivity, when you eat carbohydrates, your cells uptake glucose efficiently to use or store. This keeps your blood sugar controlled to keep your body in homeostasis.
People with insulin resistance have pre-type II diabetes or type II diabetes, and often, obesity. As part of a treatment for weight loss, saunas can be used to improve insulin sensitivity.
- Forces your body to adapt
When you do a tough workout and lift heavy weights, your body is forced to adapt. Your bones become denser and you build muscle fibers, so that when you are faced with the same exposure to resistance, your body is better adapted. Similarly, when you’re in a sauna, your body is forced to adapt to the heat. As stated in a 2018 study, “[saunas] induce[s] adaptive hormesis mechanisms similar to exercise.”
Sauna for recovery
Using a sauna after a workout can enhance recovery. Saunas increase blood circulation, transporting nutrient-rich and oxygen-rich blood to oxygen-depleted muscle tissue. Transporting oxygen and nutrients to starved muscles will help them replenish and recover quicker.
Heat shock proteins are protective, aiding muscle repair after a workout. This can help to reduce muscle breakdown and assist in muscle protein synthesis - the growth of new muscle. A preliminary study published in 1988, found that using a sauna after a workout increased growth hormone.
To avoid delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), you should use a sauna after exercise. In just 15 minutes, researchers have observed an increase in white blood cells when athletes use a sauna after a workout. White blood cells fight inflammation and boost immune function, this can combat the inflammatory response produced by your body after an intense workout.
Aside from this, finishing off your workout with a sauna warms up your muscles, helping them to feel relaxed. Having a gentle stretch in the sauna can be a great way to loosen up and prevent stiff muscles and joints.
Should you use a sauna before or after a workout?
A sauna can dehydrate you quickly, and leave you feeling exhausted as your body fights to keep your temperature down. As such, it’s better to use a sauna after a workout.
How long should you sit in a sauna after a workout?
How long to sit in a sauna after a workout depends on if you are new to saunas and the intensity and duration of your workout. If you are new to saunas, or have completed a intensive workout, it’s best to limit your session to five to 10 minutes
Over time you can increase this but most still recommend capping out at 15 to 20 minutes. This is because the longer you stay in a sauna, the greater the risk of dehydration, fainting, or heat stroke. It’s vital to bring a water bottle into the sauna with you, and keep sipping it throughout your session to avoid dehydration. Click here to shop our stainless steel drinking flasks. If you start to feel light-headed or dizzy, immediately exit the sauna to prevent blacking out, fainting, or falling.
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