Sauna sessions are beneficial for your health! They boost the immune system, kickstart metabolism, and can promote heart health. But what effect does the sauna have after exercise? Does it really enhance muscle growth and recovery, or could it potentially harm the body? Let's explore this together.
Many gyms now offer a small wellness area, including a sauna. It might seem logical that a sauna session after exercise would be good, right? As much as we love relaxation, unfortunately, the answer is no. After intense training, the body is briefly weakened, and stress hormones are released. Scientists call this phenomenon the "open window effect." If you go to the sauna immediately after intense exercise, you put the slightly weakened body back into another stressful situation, making it susceptible to illnesses. This is stated by Prof. Ingo Froböse from the German Sport University Cologne. So going to the sauna directly after exercise is not a good idea, in terms of the body's defenses. Nevertheless, the sauna is good for athletes. Ideally, there should be some distance between sports and sauna.
Indeed, scientific studies associate sauna sessions after exercise with muscle growth. A Spanish-Portuguese research team conducted a study with two groups. The training in both groups was identical, but only one group went to the sauna after exercise. The time interval between sauna and training is not clear from the study. After just 12 weeks, differences in muscle and bone mass were observed in the sauna group. Both tissues increased more than in the control group. Other studies also suggest similar effects on the body through heat. Researchers attribute these effects to several mechanisms:
The health benefits of sauna are not limited to muscle building and athletic performance; they also extend to general well-being, longevity, and mental health.
Longevity and stress reduction: Regular sauna usage is often associated with a longer lifespan. This is not only due to physical benefits like improved blood circulation, lowered blood pressure, and increased oxygen supply but also due to the mental aspect. Sauna provides a space for tranquility. Stress levels decrease, positively affecting overall well-being and potentially reducing stress-related illnesses.
Detoxification: Sweating is a natural way for the body to cleanse itself. In the sauna, this process intensifies, aiding in the elimination of toxins and pollutants through the skin. This detox routine can strengthen the immune system and reduce the risk of diseases.
Strengthening the immune system: Sauna acts as a booster for the immune system. The increased body temperature boosts the production of white blood cells and T-cells, which fight pathogens. Moreover, the sweat produced contains antimicrobial peptides that combat harmful microorganisms. Regular sauna visits have been proven to reduce the risk of infections and support the body in warding off diseases. Therefore, sauna is not just a source of relaxation but also an effective means to strengthen the immune system, which is particularly important in autumn and winter, the cold and flu season.
Recommended reading: How to boost your immune system
Improved sleep quality: The relaxing effect of the sauna contributes to better sleep quality. The warmth helps relax the muscles and has a generally calming effect, leading to deeper sleep. Adequate and restful sleep is crucial for the body's regeneration and also for strengthening the immune system. Moreover, healthy sleep aids in muscle recovery and can, in turn, influence your training performance.
Endorphins: The sauna offers not only physical but also mental purification. The heat helps clear the mind and promotes the release of endorphins, the so-called happiness hormones. This leads to a sense of relaxation and contentment, enhances mental clarity, and fosters positive thinking.
Our motto at AURUM is LIVE MORE – live better and longer. A routine like going to the sauna perfectly aligns with this philosophy. It enhances your quality of life and contributes to preventing some illnesses. Additionally, it makes your AURUM training more effective.
Interestingly, cold has almost identical effects on the body and training. Learn in our blog post about cold showers and how cold exposure can support your training and health.
Sauna is a science in itself. Nowadays, there are many different saunas, steam baths, infrared cabins, and more. But how can your body benefit most from a sauna session? Here are 5 tips for you:
Every person is different, and different temperatures suit different individuals. There isn't a single correct temperature for everyone. Choose the sauna that helps you relax the most. The benefits mentioned regarding sauna after exercise predominantly refer to the Finnish sauna since most studies are conducted on this type. Characteristic are the relatively high temperatures of 85 to 110 degrees Celsius and the low humidity of 10 percent. An infusion increases the humidity for a short time, making you sweat more.
Usually, 1 to 3 sauna sessions, each lasting 5 to 20 minutes, interrupted by cooling phases, are performed.
For hygienic reasons, it's advisable to shower before entering the sauna. A common mistake in sauna sessions is entering the sauna while still wet. The water evaporates on your skin and cools you down, causing you to sweat less. Dry skin sweats better, and this also applies to fat. So, shower beforehand and dry yourself thoroughly.
Before the first sauna session and after leaving the sauna, you should drink plenty of mineral-rich water because you sweat out about 500ml of water and electrolytes. Drinking during sauna sessions and between sauna sessions can reduce the effect. Water is the best beverage for the body. You should definitely avoid alcoholic beverages because the combination of sauna and alcohol can be too much for your circulation and lead to dehydration.
Many athletes head straight to the sauna after exercise, but this could be too stressful for the body. Give your body some time to recover. Use the days between training for a sauna visit. This supports your recovery, increases your performance, and can promote your health without triggering or prolonging the open window phenomenon. For example, if you attend AURUM training on Monday, we recommend going to the sauna on Wednesday.
Cooling down after the sauna stabilizes your circulation and is therefore an essential part of sauna sessions. Experienced sauna-goers might enjoy jumping into an ice pool after the sauna session. For newcomers, this could be too much of a strain. The body needs suitable cooling. You can start with a lukewarm shower and gradually approach colder temperatures. Begin with cold water on your arms and legs, then move to the body's center.
Remember, every body is different, so listen to yours. Find what sauna routine works best for you, and enjoy the numerous benefits a sauna can bring to your overall health and athletic performance.
Toro, V., Siquier-Coll, J., Bartolomé, I., Pérez-Quintero, M., Raimundo, A., Muñoz, D., & Maynar-Mariño, M. (2021). Effects of Twelve Sessions of High-Temperature Sauna Baths on Body Composition in Healthy Young Men. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(9), 4458. MDPI AG. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18094458
Scoon, G. S., Hopkins, W. G., Mayhew, S., & Cotter, J. D. (2007). Effect of post-exercise sauna bathing on the endurance performance of competitive male runners. Journal of science and medicine in sport, 10(4), 259–262. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2006.06.009