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Saunas may be all the rage in the wellness and fitness industries, but they’re nothing new. Far from it, actually. Sauna use dates back thousands of years to Finland, where stone-lined pits in the ground served as the traditional Finnish saunas

They’re popular for a reason: It feels good to use them. You’ve probably heard people say they feel relaxed, rejuvenated, or refreshed after sitting in a sauna. But are dry sauna benefits actually backed up by science? We consulted with physical therapist and GGR expert panelist Dr. Mike Masi, and combed through the available evidence, to learn more about sauna benefits.

RELATED: Best Home Sauna

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.

Benefits of Dry Saunas

Interior or the Plunge Sauna

As it turns out, several dry sauna benefits do have a scientific basis—at least a moderate one. In particular, saunas are thought to positively impact heart health, athletic performance, muscle soreness, pain associated with certain diseases, skin health, and mood. 

1. Possible Positive Effect on Heart Health 

One of the most widely cited health benefits of saunas is improved cardiovascular health. 

A 2018 literature review in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings1 reports that “emerging evidence suggests that sauna bathing has several health benefits, which include reduction in the risk of vascular diseases such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease (CVD), stroke, and neurocognitive diseases.” 

Additional research supports this, including a 2018 systematic review in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine2, in which authors also say sauna use is associated with a lower risk of heart failure, sudden cardiac death, and all-cause mortality (death from any cause).   

If you already have any form of heart disease, including if you’ve recently had a heart attack, it’s imperative to talk to your doctor before using a sauna. People with high or low blood pressure should also talk to their doctor before use.

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Redwood Outdoors Sauna Review

2. Might Improve Athletic Performance

Stamina running

One profound benefit of dry saunas is exercise performance, particularly endurance performance. In a small 2007 trial3, runners who sat in a sauna for about 30 minutes after running experienced an increase in time to exhaustion by more than 30%. According to the research, this effect is likely due to an increase in blood volume.

Another study4 concluded that sauna use is an “effective ergogenic aid” and a worthwhile tool for heat acclimatization, showing that runners who used the sauna had lower core temperature readings during a heat tolerance test, compared to runners who did not use the sauna. 

3. Relieves Muscle Soreness and Tightness

Feeling achy, tight, or sore? A sauna session might help. 

Research5 has shown that sauna bathing can increase the amount of anti-inflammatory proteins after exercise. One study6 also found that people who used saunas regularly had lower levels of an inflammatory molecule (C-reactive protein) in their blood, so the anti-inflammatory benefits may be twofold.

Additionally, researchers have proposed7 that due to vasodilation (widening of the blood vessels) and increased blood flow, saunas may reduce muscle soreness post-exercise.

RELATED: 8 Sauna Benefits After a Workout

4. Relieves Symptoms Associated With Rheumatic Diseases

The aforementioned 2018 systematic review in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine2 found that sauna use may also alleviate pain from rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and other rheumatic conditions (conditions that affect joints, tendons, ligaments, bones, and muscles). 

5. Can Relieve Anxiety and Lift Mood

Woman pouring water over sauna rocks in the Redwood Outdoors Sauna

Evidently, sauna health benefits include improved mental health, too. The science isn’t as strong here, but some research does correlate sauna use and reduced depression, anxiety, and fatigue. 

In one small controlled trial8 from 2005, 28 patients with mild depression and low appetite were split into two groups: sauna therapy and no sauna therapy. After four weeks, the participants who used the sauna for 15 minutes per day, five days per week, reported increased appetite and relaxation. 

Another study from 20159 investigated the effects of regular sauna use on patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. The patients reported significantly lower fatigue during (but not after) dry sauna sessions, as well as lower levels of anxiety and depression.

6. Might Help You Sleep

Because of its positive effects on mood and anxiety, sitting in a sauna may also help you catch more Zs, which we all know is important for overall well-being. In 2019, researchers published the results of a survey about sauna benefits10. Of nearly 500 respondents, more than 80% reported that using a sauna before bed helped them sleep better.

Dry Sauna Safety Precautions

To keep yourself safe while using a dry sauna, it’s important to abide by the following safety information. 

  • Limit time in the sauna: Most sauna guidelines recommend staying in the sauna for a maximum of 15 minutes. 
  • Use intervals for longer sessions: If you want to sauna bathe for longer than 15 minutes, take breaks to cool off every 15 minutes. Exit the sauna and allow your body to cool down before re-entering. 
  • Bring water to drink: Saunas cause you to sweat, sometimes a lot, so make sure to drink plenty of water. 
  • Do not exercise in the sauna: While some gentle stretching in a sauna is usually well-tolerated, it’s not advisable to try to exercise in the sauna. This will increase sweat rate and heart rate even more and can cause you to become dizzy or lightheaded. 
  • Exit the sauna or lower temperature if you begin to feel dizzy, faint, or lightheaded.

You should not use a sauna, or first check with a doctor if: 

  • You are prone to lightheadedness, dizziness, or fainting
  • You are dehydrated
  • You are under the influence of alcohol or any drugs 
  • You are pregnant or nursing (talk to your obstetrician)
  • You have a fever or are sick with a bacterial or viral infection
  • You have cardiovascular disease 
  • You have low or high blood pressure 
  • You get seizures or have a seizure disorder
  • You have another medical condition that might affect your ability to withstand high temperatures 

Dry Sauna Vs Steam Room

Photo outside SweatTent showing woman sitting on a bench inside the tent

Dry saunas are just that: Dry. They utilize an electric heater with heated rocks or a wood-burning stove to heat the air around you, creating dry heat.

Steam rooms, also called wet saunas or steam saunas, use generators to boil water, which then fills the room with hot steam. This creates a very humid environment and a very different experience. 

Traditional saunas get much warmer than steam rooms: a dry sauna operates at 160 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, while steam rooms generally max out at around 120 degrees. But because of the humidity level, it can feel hotter in a steam room than in a dry sauna.
Read more about steam rooms vs saunas and steam room benefits.

Dry Sauna Vs Infrared Sauna 

Another newer type of sauna, infrared saunas, use infrared light, a form of electromagnetic radiation (don’t worry; it’s safe) to heat the body directly rather than heating the air around your body. 

They run at temps between 120 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and are associated with many of the same benefits as dry saunas and steam rooms. However, infrared saunas are much newer than traditional saunas, so the body of specific research around them is not as strong. 

Read more about infrared sauna benefits.

Dry Sauna Benefits: Final Thoughts 

Sun Home Luminar Sauna in gym

From stress relief to heart health, dry saunas are associated with numerous benefits, and there’s a decent body of scientific evidence to support those benefits. 

But, as Dr. Mike Masi, physical therapist and GGR expert panelist, explains in our guide to infrared sauna benefits, “I’ve read studies on sauna bathing improving depression, chronic pain, and even risk reduction for metabolic syndromes, cardiovascular disease, and all cause mortality, but these are all outcomes that have been very well established as adaptations to physical activity.”

He adds: “So, in my line of work as a strength coach and physical therapist, I know I can achieve this with movement and exercise prescription.”

Sauna access isn’t universal, and getting one for your home is a big investment. In general, Dr. Masi says he would “recommend it as a means to manage symptoms so long as it feels good for the patient”—but don’t feel like you’re missing out on too much if you can’t get to one.

Dry Sauna Benefits: FAQs

How long should you sit in a dry sauna?

The generally recommended time frame is 10 to 15 minutes for saunas, steam rooms, hot tubs, and other similar apparatuses. If you want to stay inside longer, it’s highly advised to take breaks of at least five minutes every 10 to 15 minutes and even do a cold-water rinse or plunge to bring your body temperature down in between intervals.

Is doing a dry sauna every day good for you?

Sauna use frequency is up to the user. If sauna sessions feel good to you and reduce symptoms, relieve pain, or alleviate stress, then sure, using a sauna every day might be good for you. Just remember to hydrate! 

How often should you use a dry sauna?

You can use a sauna as often as you want, so long as you’re following practical safety recommendations. Since many gyms have saunas, many people simply plan to use the sauna when they work out. 

Does dry sauna burn fat?

No, saunas do not burn fat. Because saunas increase body temperature, sitting in a sauna increases thermogenesis, which burns more calories than you would sitting in a cooler room. However, any immediate weight loss from sauna use is water weight due to sweating. 

Do saunas detox your body? 

Despite how wonderful you may feel after spending time in a sauna, no, they do not detox your body (and you should know that “detox” is just a marketing term and doesn’t really mean anything). While saunas do increase your sweat rate, and sweat excretes waste, your body is fully capable of excreting all toxins on its own without a sauna, too.

Are saunas good for your skin? 

It’s possible that because of their increased blood flow to the skin, sauna use may have a positive impact on skin health. However, because of the low humidity, dry saunas may not be ideal for people with skin conditions characterized by dry, flaky, or itchy skin11, such as psoriasis. Steam rooms with a moist heat may be a better choice for eczema, dermatitis, and similar conditions.

References

  1. Laukkanen JA, Laukkanen T, Kunutsor SK. Cardiovascular and Other Health Benefits of Sauna Bathing: A Review of the Evidence. Mayo Clin Proc. 2018;93(8):1111-1121. doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2018.04.008
  2. Hussain J, Cohen M. Clinical Effects of Regular Dry Sauna Bathing: A Systematic Review. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2018;2018:1857413. Published 2018 Apr 24. doi:10.1155/2018/1857413
  3. Scoon GS, Hopkins WG, Mayhew S, Cotter JD. Effect of post-exercise sauna bathing on the endurance performance of competitive male runners. J Sci Med Sport. 2007;10(4):259-262. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2006.06.009
  4. Kirby NV, Lucas SJE, Armstrong OJ, Weaver SR, Lucas RAI. Intermittent post-exercise sauna bathing improves markers of exercise capacity in hot and temperate conditions in trained middle-distance runners. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2021;121(2):621-635. doi:10.1007/s00421-020-04541-z
  5. Żychowska M, Nowak-Zaleska A, Chruściński G, et al. Association of High Cardiovascular Fitness and the Rate of Adaptation to Heat Stress. Biomed Res Int. 2018;2018:1685368. Published 2018 Feb 28. doi:10.1155/2018/1685368
  6. Laukkanen JA, Laukkanen T. Sauna bathing and systemic inflammation. Eur J Epidemiol. 2018;33(3):351-353. doi:10.1007/s10654-017-0335-y
  7. Khamwong P, Paungmali A, Pirunsan U, Joseph L. Prophylactic Effects of Sauna on Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness of the Wrist Extensors. Asian J Sports Med. 2015;6(2):e25549. doi:10.5812/asjsm.6(2)2015.25549
  8. Masuda A, Nakazato M, Kihara T, Minagoe S, Tei C. Repeated thermal therapy diminishes appetite loss and subjective complaints in mildly depressed patients. Psychosom Med. 2005;67(4):643-647. doi:10.1097/01.psy.0000171812.67767.8f
  9. Soejima Y, Munemoto T, Masuda A, Uwatoko Y, Miyata M, Tei C. Effects of Waon therapy on chronic fatigue syndrome: a pilot study. Intern Med. 2015;54(3):333-338. doi:10.2169/internalmedicine.54.3042
  10. Hussain JN, Greaves RF, Cohen MM. A hot topic for health: Results of the Global Sauna Survey. Complement Ther Med. 2019;44:223-234. doi:10.1016/j.ctim.2019.03.012
  11. Hannuksela M, Väänänen A. The sauna, skin and skin diseases. Ann Clin Res. 1988;20(4):276-278.

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