Going to the sauna to sit in the hot steam after a tough workout is a great way to relax and unwind. Did you know that it also has real, measurable benefits to your health? Using the sauna after exercise has positive effects on the cardiovascular system, the muscles, and the immune system, and it can even allow you to measurably improve your performance in aerobic activities like running. Check out these five great benefits of using the sauna.
It Soothes and Relaxes Tired Muscles
When you exercise, especially if the exercise is intense, your muscles use up sugar and oxygen in your blood for fuel. But when you begin to be out of breath, your muscles may not have enough oxygen to burn that sugar. The muscles use an alternative pathway to burn sugar without oxygen that leads to the buildup of a waste product called lactic acid. It is this lactic acid, along with microscopic tears that occur in muscle tissue, that causes the burning feeling you get when your muscles are tired, as well as much of the soreness you experience after exercise. When you go into the sauna, your skin rapidly heats to about 104 degrees. In response to this temperature change, your blood vessels dilate, allowing more blood to pass through and carry away the waste products your muscles produce during exercise. This allows your muscles to relax and begin to heal, and allows you to feel less stiff and more comfortable the next day.
It Strengthens the Heart
While you sit in the sauna, your heart has to pump harder to push your blood around all those dilated blood vessels. You have a greater effective blood volume while you sit in the steam. Over time, when you use the sauna regularly for a reasonable amount of time (usually about 15 minutes), your heart muscles will become trained to pump the extra blood around, just like your leg muscles are trained to push your body around at speed when you run regularly. Eventually, your heart muscle will become stronger, which can help protect you against certain cardiovascular diseases.
It Releases Toxins
When you sweat in the sauna, you sweat more profusely than you do when you exercise. Sweating is part of the excretory system and is one route by which the body can eliminate wastes. In the sauna, you will not only excrete some of the wastes generated by your body during exercise, but also many of the pollutants and toxins you accumulate over the course of each day. Environmental pollutants and other toxins are shed through the pores, leaving your body cleaner and less vulnerable to internal damage.
It Boosts the Immune System
While scientists aren’t sure why, when you regularly spend time in the sauna, your body produces more of the infection-fighting chemicals known as immunoglobulins. These protective molecules circulate around your body and tag invaders for destruction by the immune system. People who use the sauna regularly after exercise have been shown to be more resistant to common skin and respiratory infections, and people in Scandinavia have used saunas for centuries to improve asthma symptoms.
It Enhances Performance
Runners who use the sauna after exercising have been found to have a measurable increase in their speed, agility, and endurance above when they exercised regularly without sauna use. This may be related to the increase in the strength of the heart muscle, the blood volume, and the response of blood vessels to sitting in the hot steam.
Next time you work out at your gym, take a few minutes to visit the sauna after you exercise. Not only is it relaxing, but the benefits on multiple body systems are real and can help improve your health and performance.
Derek Durant writes on a variety of topics including nutritional science, general health & wellness, stress relief, exercise & fitness, the Spa chair, massage therapy and other relevant issues.