When it comes to your workout, there are several ways to boost your routine beyond the gym. Popular methods include incorporating a pre-workout smoothie, some wellness supplements keep your body feeling its best and solidifying your post-workout routine. Another option? Incorporating a sauna before or after a workout.
Never heard of this one before? Here, we dive deeper into the benefits of using a sauna and whether you should use it before or after your workout and why. Keep scrolling for expert advice from MDs.
Vital Note: This article has been made available for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Your licensed healthcare professional can best provide you with the diagnosis and treatment of any medical condition and assist you as well in deciding whether a dietary supplement will be a helpful addition to your regimen.
First things first: What are the benefits of a sauna?
Studies have found that a sauna can have positive effects on the body. These may include "detoxification, increased metabolism, weight loss, increased blood circulation, pain reduction, anti-aging, skin rejuvenation, improved sleep, and relaxation,**" explains Jessica Shepherd, MD, MBA, FACOG and Chief Medical Officer of Verywell Health.
Relaxation is often the most popular reason someone uses the sauna. The reason for these effects essentially boils down to the heat exposure, which ultimately increases the skin and core body temperature. In doing so, this "activates thermoregulatory pathways via the hypothalamus and central nervous system (CNS) leading to activation of the autonomic nervous system," says Shepherd.
Translation? The heat switches on the control system in your body which is key to controlling many of your bodily functions.
Are there any risks in using a sauna?
Of course, we couldn't list off all these appealing benefits without caveating some of the risks associated with them. Using a sauna is not for everyone. According to Shepherd, these may include harmful effects to patients with specific ailments like congestive heart failure and cardiovascular diseases, "most likely because of perceived intolerance to the high temperatures," Shepherd tells Lively.
Other potential risks include inflammation and some immune responses to "populations afflicted with chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic pain, or rheumatoid arthritis," Shepherd says.
Perhaps the most well-known risk, though, is dehydration. To mitigate this, "keeping hydrated and rehydrating after is key," says Amy Price Hoover, PT, DPT, and P.volve Clinical Advisory Board Member. She also adds that since "certain medical conditions may be higher risk for sauna use, always check with your physician before using a sauna."
When is the best time to use a sauna?
You might be wondering if it's better to use a sauna before or after a workout. Capitalizing on the best time to use a sauna can make all the difference when it comes to the benefits of it.
"Some types of heat therapy have been shown to help mitigate muscle soreness or when used before exercise," says Hoover. "More often, however, sauna use is recommended for post exercise to aid in relaxation, recovery and detoxification."
Can a sauna help with muscle recovery?
The short answer, according to Hoover, is maybe.
"Some research has shown that using a sauna has proven to help with muscle recovery and reduce muscle soreness after an intense workout," says Hoover. But pairing exercise with a post-sauna session can help you make the most of it.
"Muscle recovery is a very important part of exercise and fitness, for example, pairing a recover and stretch workout with a sauna session can keep your body feeling amazing and ready for the next intense workout," Hoover adds.
How long should you sauna after a workout to maximize benefits?
Incorporating short spurts of sauna use throughout the week is the best approach to maximize benefits, Shepherd says. Some studies, such as this one done on a small sample size of healthy men, have shown that small durations of regular sauna use can be up to four to seven times per week for 19 minutes.
It's best to ease into sauna use, adds Hoover. "The American College of Sports Medicine recommends waiting at least 10 minutes after exercising, starting with only five to 10 minutes if you have never done it before, and capping use at 15 minutes to avoid dehydration," she says.
The bottom line, you shouldn't use the sauna for too long at any given time. And should always check with your doctor first.