Everybody knows that saunas are quiet, contemplative spaces where you can relax and unwind. But did you know that regular sauna sessions can boost your physical fitness as well as your health and happiness?
Let’s take a closer look at the fitness benefits of regular sauna use, from improving your endurance to shortening your recovery times.
1. It helps you warm up (literally)
A pre-workout sauna session will warm and loosen your muscles, prepping them for a gentle stretch to minimise the possibility of strains and sprains during exercise.
That’s because the heat of the sauna activates thermoregulatory pathways via the hypothalamus and central nervous system (CNS), leading to activation of the autonomic nervous system. In plain English, that means the heat switches on the system that controls many of your bodily functions.
Just remember to keep your time in the sauna brief, and to hydrate before and after.
2. It may lead to greater endurance
Research suggests that post-workout sauna sessions can improve your physical endurance. In 2007, a study tracked male runners taking 30-minute post-workout baths at 88°C for three weeks. When results showed that every athlete had increased his running endurance, researchers suggested that the heat had helped improve cardiovascular capacity, which in turn led to better oxygen levels and enhanced endurance.
3. It’s a moderate cardio workout
You can expect your heart rate to rise to 120-140 beats per minute during a sauna session. When you leave, it will likely drop below your usual resting level. This change in cardiac output will help your heart grow stronger.
To take advantage, divide your sauna session into three or four short sets, alternating between 10 minutes in the heat and 2-3 minutes cooling down. The fluctuating temperature will elevate your heart rate by up to 60%, which is the same as moderate cardio exercise.
4. It helps preserve muscle mass
You work hard for those gains, so don’t let them disappear! A 2021 study into how saunas might extend “healthspan” (the number of years you live with vitality) found that regular sauna use not only protects against cardiovascular and neurodegenerative disease but may also help to counteract sarcopenia, the age-related loss of muscle and skeletal mass.
5. It reduces muscle soreness
A sauna session is not only mentally relaxing — it also helps the muscles to relax after an intense workout. According to the Harvard Medical School, blood flow nearly doubles during a sauna session. As the blood flow increases, the muscles relax, which in turn improves muscle recovery and reduces muscle soreness, enhancing the overall recovery process.
The key here is to pair your post-workout sauna session with recovery exercises rather than simply staying put in the heat. A gentle recover-and-stretch workout before or after the sauna will leave you feeling limber, supple and ready for the next challenge.
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