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After a tough, long workout in the heat, all I want to do is sit in my living room and watch television, maybe catch up on the latest season of Survivor (I’ll never get caught up at this rate). The last thing I want to do is crawl into one of the best home saunas and continue sweating for another 20 minutes.

However, there are a lot of benefits to spending time in a sauna, especially post-exercise. In this review on the benefits of sauna after workouts, we’ll go over the many possible benefits of sauna use, like heart health, muscle recovery, better sleep, and more.

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Dare I say, the benefits of a sauna post-workout may outweigh the need to watch last week’s episode of Survivor…actually, I can just watch it while I’m in the sauna. Read on to see how a bit of heat stress can help you get a little more out of your workouts.

Medical disclaimer: This article is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. For health advice, contact a licensed healthcare provider.

Types of Saunas

Before we look at the benefits of a post-workout sauna session, let’s take a look at the different types of saunas and how they operate.

Dry Sauna

Also known as a traditional sauna, this type of sauna is the most well-known type of sauna and typically what people will think of when they hear the term. Originating from Finland, these are wooden rooms that heat up from either a wood-burning stove or an electric heater. Dry saunas can get hot, ranging in high temperatures from 160 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, and sometimes a bit hotter. For most people, around 200 degrees is the maximum safe temperature to sauna in.

Interior or the Plunge Sauna
Photo Credit: Plunge

Traditional Finnish saunas have sauna rocks where you can pour water to produce steam; although the humidity won’t increase drastically, the heat will remain a dry heat. This high temperature is used to make you sweat and cause heat stress, which may result in a few health benefits (more on that later).

Wet or Steam Sauna

What people typically think of as steam or wet saunas are actually steam rooms with a good amount of steam within the room. Because of the amount of steam needed, steam rooms typically are sealed off to retain heat and humidity within the room. 

These have a much higher humidity than a dry sauna, although the temperature maxes out at about 120 degrees. You can make a dry, traditional sauna into a steam sauna, if you place enough water over sauna rocks to create a generous amount of steam.

Infrared Sauna

Typically made in a similar wooden room as a dry sauna, infrared saunas use infrared light to heat the user instead of a stove. These saunas use infrared light to raise the body temperature by penetrating fat tissue and the neuromuscular system1 instead of surrounding air, causing the user to sweat at lower temperatures. Infrared saunas can range from 120 to 150 degrees.

Photo featuring the inside of a large infrared sauna

While infrared saunas and red light therapy is becoming more popular, research is still pretty limited, and further research should be done on the effectiveness and possible risks of this newer type of sauna.

RELATED: Infrared Sauna Benefits

Sauna Benefits After Workout

Now, let’s get into what a sauna session may help do for you after an intense workout. 

May Help Reduce Inflammation

After a heavy session of strength training, sore muscles can be inflamed, as well as joints, ligaments, and tendons. Using a sauna post-workout can help reduce that inflammation. 

RELATED: Benefits of Strength Training

According to a 2018 study2, people who used a sauna were shown to have lower CRP (C-reactive protein) levels than those who didn’t. CRP is a blood protein used in inflammatory responses, and these levels decreased the more frequently the sauna was used. 

Sauna use also can boost anti-inflammatory proteins, like IL-10, according to another study from the same year3. In the study, anti-inflammatory proteins significantly increased in people after four weeks of consistent sauna usage.

May Help Improve Muscle Recovery

Nothing would help more after a tough workout than to jumpstart your recovery for the next day. A small study from July 20234 showed that infrared sauna use could do just that. In this study, basketball players did 20 minutes of passive recovery or a 20-minute session in an infrared sauna. The study found that most sauna users felt more recovered and perceived less muscle soreness.

RELATED: Best Muscle Recovery Tools

Another study from 20145 demonstrated that a single use of a Finnish sauna after aerobic exercise was able to reduce the oxidative stress caused by the workout significantly. Less stress on the body allows for more recovery.

May Help Improve Cardiovascular Health

The stress caused by the heat of the sauna can help improve your cardio performance and health. Saunas are a relatively safe, controlled way to train your cardiovascular performance; as the temperature of the sauna increases, your heart rate increases6 as well, up to levels comparable to moderate or vigorous exercise.

Wide shot inside a sauna with infrared light in top corner

Although this causes stress initially, it appears to also relieve that cardiovascular stress, as seen in an August 2019 study7. In it, athlete’s heart rates were lower after recovery from the sauna than their normal baseline prior to sauna use.

May Help Reduce Blood Pressure

Along with cardiovascular health, saunas have been shown to reduce your blood pressure. A small study in 20198 took the blood pressure of 19 individuals before, during, and 30 minutes after sauna use. In that study, the participants’ heart rates and blood pressure increased while in the sauna, but were lower than their baseline after recovery.

RELATED: Does Cardio Lower Blood Pressure?

May Help You Sleep Better

In addition to reducing heart rate and increasing blood flow, saunas after working out can be relaxing to the right person, too. A sauna session in the evening after working out can help you relax before bed. In a survey from a 2019 June study9, 83.5% of nearly 500 participants reported sleep benefits after sauna use.

May Help Release Toxins

If you didn’t know, saunas can make you sweat. The average person loses about 0.5 kilograms of sweat10 during a sauna bath—about 1.1 pounds. A Mayo Clinic review11 also notes that the increased body temperature from dry saunas increases blood circulation and blood flow to the skin, which helps facilitate sweating.

Interior of the Redwood Outdoors Thermowood Cabin Sauna
Photo Credit: Redwood Outdoors

Your body can excrete toxins through sweat and sauna use, such as BPAs12, heavy metals13, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)14. It’s important to note that these toxins are excreted through blood and urine as well as through sweat, though. But if you’re looking for a way to detox and help your skin, a sauna might do the trick.

May Help Aid In Weight Loss

A sauna session may help in weight loss, though not in the way you might think. Due to the amount of sweat that can be lost in a single sauna session, saunas can cause rapid weight loss, where a person can lose a few pounds15 after a single session—although the weight lost is almost all water weight.

This is a common practice for athletes in a sport divided by weight classes, so that an athlete can be under a weight in time of competition while retaining muscle mass as much as possible. Keep in mind; these athletes are also supervised by professionals and experts while cutting weight, and this method should not be attempted by regular people.

Still, the heat stress of a sauna will certainly burn more calories than being sedentary. A January 2019 study16 showed that considerably more calories were burned during sauna use than just doing nothing, which resulted in significant weight loss in overweight men.

While research is scarce on whether or not sauna use can really help with weight loss, the stress relief, and increased metabolism of sauna use can certainly aid in potential weight loss, especially when paired with routine exercise.

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May Help Improve Mental Health

The higher temperatures of a dry sauna after a workout have been shown to help with your mental health and stress relief as well. A study from 201717 showed that both heat stress and exercise can increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, a protein in the central and peripheral nervous systems. BDNF has lots of benefits to brain function, including memory function and handling anxiety and depression, as noted from a 2010 study18 with male rats.

Possible Risks of Sauna Use After Workout

While sauna use is a relatively safe practice, there are a few potential risks to be mindful of, especially if using one after working out.

Dehydration

The most obvious issue with saunas after workouts is the risk of dehydration. After a workout, there’s already a good chance that you’re deprived of water and electrolytes, and a sauna session will exacerbate that issue, leading to overheating or lightheadedness. To resolve this, make sure to drink plenty of water throughout your day and hydrate during your workout with water or an electrolyte drink.

Discomfort

Some people just don’t respond well to heat therapy. Although a sauna session can be relaxing for some, others may simply not enjoy the heat. If you’re reluctant to use a sauna but are still interested, you may want to consider smaller sessions at first to build up a tolerance  for heat stress. Start with 10 minutes, and as you get more comfortable, you can begin to extend your session time until you hit the standard 15- or 20-minute session that most use.

Interior of the Morgan Barrel Sauna by Almost Heaven

Pre-Existing Health Conditions

Due to the increased heart rate and cardiovascular performance during sauna use, a sauna session may be a bit too much for those with pre-existing conditions—notably cardiovascular disease, congestive heart failure, or high blood pressure.

Although there are studies19 that suggest that sauna use can be beneficial for those with heart disease, it’s important to consult your doctor before making a sauna a part of your routine.

Men and Women’s Health Effects

There are certain cases where there may be health risks for both men and women.

For men, sauna use has been shown to reduce sperm count, according to an April 2013 study20. This is more than likely due to the heat of the sauna, but was also shown to be only a temporary malady, as participants’ sperm counts were back up after six months of not using a sauna. So even though it’s a temporary effect, it is something to be mindful of—in case you’re trying to conceive.

Women who are pregnant have been told not to use a sauna, due to the heat. However, a recent review21 says that women who are pregnant delivered healthy babies even after being exposed to sauna-like temperatures. 

Still, women who have been diagnosed with toxemia (preeclampsia)—typically characterized by high blood pressure and some damage to organs like the liver or kidneys—should avoid sauna use, as the blood flow to the uterine artery can be restricted, which may hurt the fetus’ health.

Benefits of Sauna After Workout: Final Thoughts 

A sauna session after exercise can be beneficial to you for many reasons. There are lots of ways it can help relieve sore muscles while also helping your cardio health and brain health even.

While it’s still relatively safe to use, make sure to stay hydrated and build up a tolerance for saunas if needed. Also, if you have any pre-existing conditions, it’s best to talk to your doctor before practicing sauna use.

Benefits of Sauna After Workout: FAQs

How long should you sit in a sauna after a workout?

Sauna sessions can vary, although typically, most athletes will spend 15 to 20 minutes during a sauna session—less time if you’re new to sauna use.

Is it better to sauna before or after a workout?

Neither is better but rather different. Using a sauna after a workout can help with muscle soreness and recovery, but a sauna before a workout could help loosen up joints and blood flow for your workout.

Does a sauna burn calories?

Yes, although it won’t burn as many as a high-intensity workout would. One study16 found that using a sauna burned more calories than being sedentary, and the number of calories considerably increased the longer someone’s session lasted.

RELATED: HIIT Cardio Workouts At Home

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases.

References

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  2. Laukkanen JA, Laukkanen T. Sauna bathing and systemic inflammation. Eur J Epidemiol. 2018 Mar;33(3):351-353. doi: 10.1007/s10654-017-0335-y. Epub 2017 Dec 5. PMID: 29209938.
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  4. Ahokas EK, Ihalainen JK, Hanstock HG, Savolainen E, Kyröläinen H. A post-exercise infrared sauna session improves recovery of neuromuscular performance and muscle soreness after resistance exercise training. Biol Sport. 2023 Jul;40(3):681-689. doi: 10.5114/biolsport.2023.119289. Epub 2022 Sep 15. PMID: 37398966; PMCID: PMC10286597.
  5. Sutkowy P, Woźniak A, Boraczyński T, Mila-Kierzenkowska C, Boraczyński M. The effect of a single Finnish sauna bath after aerobic exercise on the oxidative status in healthy men. Scand J Clin Lab Invest. 2014 Mar;74(2):89-94. doi: 10.3109/00365513.2013.860616. Epub 2013 Dec 5. PMID: 24304490.
  6. Taggart P, Parkinson P, Carruthers M. Cardiac responses to thermal, physical, and emotional stress. Br Med J. 1972 Jul 8;3(5818):71-6. doi: 10.1136/bmj.3.5818.71. PMID: 4114377; PMCID: PMC1785579.
  7. Laukkanen T, Lipponen J, Kunutsor SK, Zaccardi F, Araújo CGS, Mäkikallio TH, Khan H, Willeit P, Lee E, Poikonen S, Tarvainen M, Laukkanen JA. Recovery from sauna bathing favorably modulates cardiac autonomic nervous system. Complement Ther Med. 2019 Aug;45:190-197. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2019.06.011. Epub 2019 Jun 22. PMID: 31331560.
  8. Ketelhut S, Ketelhut RG. The blood pressure and heart rate during sauna bath correspond to cardiac responses during submaximal dynamic exercise. Complement Ther Med. 2019 Jun;44:218-222. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2019.05.002. Epub 2019 May 2. PMID: 31126559.
  9. Hussain JN, Greaves RF, Cohen MM. A hot topic for health: Results of the Global Sauna Survey. Complement Ther Med. 2019 Jun;44:223-234. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2019.03.012. Epub 2019 Apr 24. PMID: 31126560.
  10. Podstawski R, Boraczyński T, Boraczyński M, Choszcz D, Mańkowski S, Markowski P. Sauna-induced body mass loss in young sedentary women and men. ScientificWorldJournal. 2014;2014:307421. doi: 10.1155/2014/307421. Epub 2014 Dec 31. PMID: 25614882; PMCID: PMC4295591.
  11. Jari A. Laukkanen, MD, PhD; Tanjaniina Laukkanen, MSc; and Setor K. Kunutsor, MD, PhD. Cardiovascular and Other Health Benefits of Sauna Bathing: A Review of the Evidence. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. August 2018.
  12. Genuis SJ, Beesoon S, Birkholz D, Lobo RA. Human excretion of bisphenol A: blood, urine, and sweat (BUS) study. J Environ Public Health. 2012;2012:185731. doi: 10.1155/2012/185731. Epub 2011 Dec 27. PMID: 22253637; PMCID: PMC3255175.
  13. Genuis SJ, Birkholz D, Rodushkin I, Beesoon S. Blood, urine, and sweat (BUS) study: monitoring and elimination of bioaccumulated toxic elements. Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 2011 Aug;61(2):344-57. doi: 10.1007/s00244-010-9611-5. Epub 2010 Nov 6. PMID: 21057782.
  14. Genuis SJ, Beesoon S, Birkholz D. Biomonitoring and Elimination of Perfluorinated Compounds and Polychlorinated Biphenyls through Perspiration: Blood, Urine, and Sweat Study. ISRN Toxicol. 2013 Sep 3;2013:483832. doi: 10.1155/2013/483832. PMID: 24083032; PMCID: PMC3776372.
  15. Podstawski R, Boraczyński T, Boraczyński M, Choszcz D, Mańkowski S, Markowski P. Sauna-induced body mass loss in young sedentary women and men. ScientificWorldJournal. 2014;2014:307421. doi: 10.1155/2014/307421. Epub 2014 Dec 31. PMID: 25614882; PMCID: PMC4295591.
  16. Podstawski R, Borysławski K, Clark CCT, Choszcz D, Finn KJ, Gronek P. Correlations between Repeated Use of Dry Sauna for 4 x 10 Minutes, Physiological Parameters, Anthropometric Features, and Body Composition in Young Sedentary and Overweight Men: Health Implications. Biomed Res Int. 2019 Jan 21;2019:7535140. doi: 10.1155/2019/7535140. PMID: 30800676; PMCID: PMC6360547.
  17. Kojima D, Nakamura T, Banno M, Umemoto Y, Kinoshita T, Ishida Y, Tajima F. Head-out immersion in hot water increases serum BDNF in healthy males. Int J Hyperthermia. 2018 Sep;34(6):834-839. doi: 10.1080/02656736.2017.1394502. Epub 2017 Nov 20. PMID: 29157042.
  18. Maniam J, Morris MJ. Voluntary exercise and palatable high-fat diet both improve behavioural profile and stress responses in male rats exposed to early life stress: role of hippocampus. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2010 Nov;35(10):1553-64. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2010.05.012. Epub 2010 Jul 1. PMID: 20594764.
  19. Miyamoto H, Kai H, Nakaura H, Osada K, Mizuta Y, Matsumoto A, Imaizumi T. Safety and efficacy of repeated sauna bathing in patients with chronic systolic heart failure: a preliminary report. J Card Fail. 2005 Aug;11(6):432-6. doi: 10.1016/j.cardfail.2005.03.004. PMID: 16105634.
  20. Garolla A, Torino M, Sartini B, Cosci I, Patassini C, Carraro U, Foresta C. Seminal and molecular evidence that sauna exposure affects human spermatogenesis. Hum Reprod. 2013 Apr;28(4):877-85. doi: 10.1093/humrep/det020. Epub 2013 Feb 14. PMID: 23411620.
  21. Kukkonen-Harjula K, Kauppinen K. Health effects and risks of sauna bathing. Int J Circumpolar Health. 2006 Jun;65(3):195-205. doi: 10.3402/ijch.v65i3.18102. PMID: 16871826.

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