I’ve been a regular sauna user for some time, mostly because it just feels so good. This is because the intense heat and deep sweating triggers the release of endorphins: the same feel-good, euphoric and painkilling hormones released from intense exercise.
But beside the endorphins, the sauna has a number of other health benefits that you might not have guessed.
Sauna for Increasing Workout Recovery and Muscle Relaxation
Anything that increases blood flow to the muscles will do this, because blood will deliver oxygen, nutrients, and eliminate waste (like lactic acid). Hard workouts can trigger microtears in the muscle fibers, which are repaired faster with increased blood flow. Likewise, lactic acid buildup is responsible for that achy soreness the day after an intense exercise regime, and increased blood flow will help to wash it away.
Even if you didn’t work out at all, maybe your shoulders feel tight and sore from a day of hunching over in front of a computer. This type of soreness usually comes from hypoxia, or lack of oxygen to the muscle tissues. Blood delivers oxygen too… plus, the endorphins will at least temporarily numb the pain.
Sauna Helps You Detox
Sauna is perhaps best known for its detoxification benefits. The body has four main routes of toxin excretion: the bowels, the breath, the kidneys, and the skin (i.e. sweat). Sweat is of course comprised mostly of water, but your body can eliminate other things that way too—including many of the solvents and chemicals we’re exposed to on a daily basis (like heavy metals, cleaning chemicals, flame retardants, preservatives, pesticides, etc). Those toxins that aren’t eliminated directly through the skin get flushed from the tissues into the bloodstream, passing the buck to your liver and kidneys. After this step, I like to suggest constitutional hydrotherapy, castor oil packs, and colonics in cases that require more thorough cleansing.
Sauna Makes You Prettier
Sweating flushes out your pores, rinsing away bacteria and dead skin. It also increases blood flow to the surface of the skin, of course—and over time, because the blood is the delivery system for your body’s goodies, this means increased nutrients necessary for things like collagen repair.
Sauna Trains Your Heart
The sauna burns calories by increasing your heart rate by about the same rate as a moderate workout. Your heart is a muscle, so it needs fuel like the rest of you—and this increased demand can consume around 3-500 calories, depending on the length of the session and the intensity of the heat. This also means that your heart gets a workout, in much the same way as cardiovascular exercise.
Sauna Increases Immune Function
Probably because intense heat is a shock to your system, it upregulates the production of white blood cells. This means more warriors to fight against potential invaders.
Sauna Improves Athletic Performance
Aside from post-workout muscle repair, sauna increases heat tolerance. Any athletics requiring endurance will benefit from regular sauna usage, as increased heat tolerance will likely increase endurance.
Sauna Improves Sleep
As part of your circadian rhythm, the master endocrine gland in your brain (called the hypothalamus) regulates your temperature. When it’s time to sleep, your body temperature drops and your metabolism slows. This contributes to making you drowsy.
The intense heat of the sauna sets you up for a more precipitous drop than what you might otherwise experience. Thus, sauna right before bedtime can help you to sleep more soundly.
If you belong to a gym that has a sauna, tack on a session at the end of your workouts when you can!