Are Saunas Healthy? Benefits And Risks Explained
If you have been following us for a while, you will know that we encourage people to break a sweat (it is our name, after all!). There can be so many benefits of exercising and raising a sweat, but did you know there is a way to raise your heart rate and get sweaty while relaxing? Yes, we’re talking about a sauna!
Maybe you are feeling a little bit of muscle soreness and want to find a way to try and reduce this. There are some sauna benefits you might not realise that can help with this.
Keep reading to find out more about saunas, their potential health benefits and disadvantages.
What is a sauna?
A sauna is a closed, heated room that induces sweat by increasing body temperatures. Traditional saunas use dry heat to raise the temperature of the room, which can be done slightly differently, depending on the type of sauna.
The most common types of saunas are:
- Electric or gas saunas— An electric or gas heater is used to warm the temperature to high heat with low humidity (generally somewhere between 5-20% humidity).
- Wood sauna — A wood burner heats the sauna, delivering a high temperature with low humidity.
- Infrared sauna — Infrared saunas rely on lamps to heat the body, rather than heating the whole sauna.
Saunas work by raising the body temperature to a point that your body starts to work to cool itself down by sweating. As the sweat evaporates, you tend to feel cooler. Many people also find they feel more relaxed after a sauna, which can be helpful if you trying to reduce feelings of stress.
Which is better: sauna vs steam room
The main difference between a sauna and a steam room is in the way they are heated. Traditional saunas use dry heat to induce heat within the body. Typically they are heated by gas, electric or infrared technology. Meanwhile, steam rooms use boiling water to create steam, which is then trapped inside the room. This leads to high levels of humidity — unlike saunas, which mainly provide dry heat.
Humidity levels aren’t the only difference between saunas and steam rooms. When it comes to temperatures, saunas are usually much higher, reaching between 70-100℃ (158-212℉). These high temperatures are why you shouldn’t stay in a sauna for longer than 10 minutes at a time.
One isn’t necessarily better than the other — the sauna benefits and disadvantages are slightly different when compared to those of a steam room because it does not have a lot of humidity. You can read about some of the other benefits of a sauna below.
The health benefits of a sauna
There is a lot of hype about saunas having benefits for skin or for weight loss, but do these claims actually have any merit? Or are they so relaxing that we believe they are beneficial? Let’s look at some sauna benefits and disadvantages.
Sauna benefits for skin
As your heart rate increases during a sauna, the boost to your circulation can help your blood to carry additional nutrients to your skin. On top of that, as your body adjusts to the increase in temperature, your pores may naturally dilate, which can help to release bacteria. A sauna benefits skin by potentially helping to remove this bacteria and some naturally occurring pollutants via sweat, providing you are removing the sweat after the sauna is finished. Keep in mind that the hot temperatures of a sauna can dry out your skin, so apply moisturiser once you are out.
It’s also worth noting that people with some skin conditions, such as rosacea or dermatitis, should avoid using saunas as they can be aggravating to some skin types.
Sauna benefits for weight loss
Saunas naturally raise your heart rate as your body works to cool itself, so does that mean there are weight loss benefits from sauna use?
This is a common myth! While you might notice a little weight loss after some time in the sauna, this is likely due to fluid loss (‘water weight’) through sweating. This weight will most likely return once your fluid levels are back to normal. On top of that, once you become dehydrated, it can be harder for your body to lose weight because being hydrated is a key component of weight loss. So, don’t expect to see sustained weight loss benefits from sauna usage, especially if you aren’t complementing these activities with other healthy habits.
Generally, the value of sauna benefits for weight loss comes from forming a part of an overall healthy lifestyle, particularly when it comes to post-workout recovery.
Sauna benefits for recovery
If you are struggling with delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) you might be looking for quick relief. There are some potential sauna benefits after a workout, as the increase in body temperature can increase circulation. This additional blood flow can help push fresh oxygen to muscles that are feeling sore, helping to ease that soreness the day after your workout. Time in the sauna shouldn’t be substituted for a proper recovery session but it can help with your overall recovery and wellbeing.
Think back to those first weeks of the 12 Week Challenge and any soreness you felt. You would probably spare 10 minutes to sit in the sauna if it meant you could move more easily the next day!
What about sauna disadvantages or risks?
For anyone with respiratory problems such as asthma or allergies, a sauna may dry out the respiratory tract, so check with your healthcare professional before using one. People with heart conditions or high blood pressure should also check with a doctor before using a sauna.
There are some safety precautions to keep in mind:
- Drink plenty of water before and after your sauna. Due to the amount of fluid you will lose as you sweat, it is important to replace this where you can.
- Don’t stay in too long, 15-20 minutes at a time is enough to enjoy dry sauna benefits.
- Avoid the sauna if you are feeling unwell to ensure you don’t overheat or become dehydrated.
Someone who is pregnant should avoid using a sauna, spa or steam room. During pregnancy, it can be harder to regulate your temperature and you can be at a higher risk of overheating.
A sauna can be part of a healthy lifestyle
Ultimately, if spending time in the sauna makes you feel good, there is no reason why you shouldn’t do that (providing you aren’t pregnant and don’t have any of the health problems outlined above). The mental health benefits of sauna time can be a big driving force for many people, as they can find mindful benefits from sitting quietly in the sauna.
When combined with a healthy lifestyle, there can be sauna benefits you might want to take advantage of. If you want to give sore muscles some attention or you want to relax in a hot environment, a sauna can be a good option!
Does anyone in the Sweat community use a sauna regularly? Do you find it beneficial?
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.