Many people are aware of the health benefits of regular sauna use. However, there are a few quick steps you can take to make sure you’re getting the most out of your sauna experience. Do enough of these tips the right way, enough times, and you’ll gradually improve the results you’re getting from your sauna routine.
Most of us will probably think that the only benefits of a sauna are for relaxing and resting. That’s not true! There are many advantages to using a sauna, including boosting the health of your heart and offering some much-needed stress relief.
Before you rush off to the nearest sauna, there are also some important guidelines that you need to know about too, but don’t sweat it because we’ll be covering everything you need to know about the sauna benefits and rules.
What Are Saunas?
A typical sauna is a room that’s been heated to around 70 – 100 degrees celsius. Saunas have always been widely popular in Scandinavian countries, but their popularity continues to grow worldwide
Humidity plays a major role in how a sauna works. Traditional Scandinavian style saunas utilise roughly 10 – 20% humidity, but that can be much higher in a Turkish sauna room. Humidity levels in Turkish saunas can even get towards 100%. Wet saunas use heat and humidity to create steam, a relaxing and purifying effect on the body.
The dry heat in a sauna will cause your body to sweat and your heart rate to rise. Many of the benefits of sitting in a sauna are linked to sweating (which has a detoxifying effect) and raised heart rate, which can sometimes be high enough to simulate physical exercise.
Using so-called “sweating treatment” as a health practice is nothing new. Researchers estimate that the Mayans used it up to 3000 years ago, and it’s been popular in countries like Finland for thousands of years. In addition, many Finish homes come with private saunas either attached to the property or nearby, and the benefits of sauna room relaxation are widely known.
There are plenty of different types of saunas to choose from, ranging from the extra steamy wet sauna to the more modern, infrared variety. Benefits and disadvantages are frequently discussed with an infrared sauna, but some studies suggest that infrared directs an impressive 80% of heat onto the body, much more than a traditional sauna!
How To Use A Sauna
Due to the nature of saunas, there are a few gym etiquette guidelines that should be followed.
It is usually recommended that you shower before going into the sauna as the high temperatures induce sweat: wet skin will cause perfumes or and smells to become more pungent, which can be unpleasant or overwhelming. Make sure you dry off before you head in, though, as this speeds up the perspiration process.
When you enter the sauna, you must enter quickly, ensuring you shut the door firmly behind you, ensuring that the heat or the steam remains in the room. Make sure you take a sheet with you to sit on, and you have removed all of your clothes. The sheet is necessary for hygiene purposes, and you don’t want sweat all over your clothes!
After leaving the sauna, your body will need to acclimate to regular temperatures again; sit for a while in a normal temperature room or cool down in the shower. Make sure you’re stopped sweating; otherwise, you’ll ruin your clothes.
How to get the most out of your sauna:
Some sauna enthusiasts find that showering before stepping into a sauna makes them sweat more rapidly and heavily, giving them an extra refreshing, restorative experience. Showering also helps stimulate blood flow through the body while removing dirt, lotions, and other residues that clog pores, allowing you to perspire freely.
Many people also shower immediately after a sauna session because it leaves them feeling clean, invigorated, and energised. After the last sauna session, don’t wash your body with shower gel. Instead, just rinse off as your body is already perfectly clean and rejuvenated from the sauna.
In addition to being courteous to your sauna comrades, showering before a sauna has been known to increase the perspiration effects. It has an additional benefit in that it can cleanse your body of unwanted dirt and grime that would otherwise hinder the use of the sauna.
Many users also find that taking a shower after you get out of the sauna on your last cycle can leave you feeling refreshed. A quick tip for this is not to use soap or body wash in your post-sauna shower; just rinse off with cool water.
How Long Should You Stay in a Sauna?
How long it feels comfortable to stay in a sauna differs, depending on your tolerance of heat, your age, and certain health factors. Typically, sauna users remain in the sauna for 10-15 minutes before taking a break to cool off and then entering the sauna again. Some people enjoy a quick dip in cool water followed by a brief cool-down period before re-entering the sauna and repeating the process. Three rounds of sauna bathing and cooling off are typical, but you should increase or reduce the number of cycles depending on what feels good to you.
If you are new to saunas, it might be difficult to tell how long you should be staying in to get the most out of practice. It can also vary greatly depending on the person, and a lot of it is going to depend on how you feel about it.
Many practitioners stay in the sauna for around fifteen minutes then take a short break to bring their temperatures down. They sometimes repeat this process up three or more times. But as always, don’t stay in for longer than you feel like you can handle, and if you have any health concerns, it may be best to consult a doctor. They may have suggestions for how long you should be making your sauna cycles.
As for how often you should use a sauna, studies have shown increased benefits with more frequent use. While 1-2 days per week saw some improvement, 3-4+ days per week resulted in maximum benefits
The benefits of sitting in a sauna will be felt regardless of whether you spend 10 minutes or an hour in the sauna, although the advantages will be heightened the longer you spend in there. However, while there are no strict time limits for how long you can spend there, there are some general guidelines.
While sitting in a sauna has become somewhat of a social event in traditional places such as Finland, where they often spend up to an hour or longer in the sauna, It is generally advised that you don’t spend more than 20 minutes in a sauna at a time.
The amount of time you sit in the sauna depends entirely on your own body. Beginners will need to build up a tolerance to the high temperatures: if it’s your first time in a sauna, then spend no more than 10 to 12 minutes in the sauna at a time. After a few times, you’ll be able to increase the minutes gradually.
If you’re looking to gain the benefits of using the sauna after a workout, then you need to wait at least 10 minutes after exercising before heading into the sauna and don’t spend any longer than 15 minutes at a time.
Practising dynamic stretching can also help reduce post-workout recovery times!
Plus, if you’ve just eaten a large meal, then you need to wait at least an hour before using the sauna.
Exfoliate and Boost Circulation
While you’re in the sauna, there are a couple of different ways you can boost the circulation to the skin and maximise the benefits you feel. When you sit in the sauna, brush, lightly scratch, or tap the skin on your arms, legs, belly, and back. This will stimulate your pores to open more while you’re in the sauna and boost the circulation at the surface of your body.
Some sauna users enjoy adding a “vasta” or “vihta” (the name varies by region) to their sauna routine. The term refers to a bundle of fresh birch twigs used to whip yourself gently. As odd as that sounds, you’ll notice the smoothness of your skin afterwards.
Sauna Bathing Au Natural
Ideally, wearing no clothing in saunas optimises the health benefits of sauna bathing. This is because clothing interferes with the ability of infrared heat to penetrate your skin and body. If you suffer from fibromyalgia, arthritis or other pain condition, reducing inflammation as fully as possible requires painful areas to be exposed directly to infrared light waves.
For traditional sauna users, clothes can hamper sweat evaporation. The body produces sweat to keep the body cool, and if the sweat doesn’t evaporate, it hasn’t been successful in cooling. So you want to keep the loop going: heat, sweat, evaporate, repeat. Maximising your skin exposure in the sauna provides your body with the opportunity to sweat freely for maximum benefit.
The most effective way to use a sauna is without any clothes at all. This is because clothing can make it more difficult for the body to get the sauna’s heat.
Most people find that wearing only a towel is the best option when they don’t have access to a more private sauna. However, if at all possible, being completely exposed to the sauna is going to be the most effective.
Stay Hydrated to Maximise Health Benefits
Don’t drink alcohol before or after a sauna session for the same reason you should drink 2-4 cool glasses of water after sauna use: hydration. You’ll be sweating profusely during sauna use, so you want to make sure you’re replacing the water you lost. The average person will lose about a pint of sweat during a brief sauna. However, it evaporates so quickly in the dry air that a person may not realise how much he is sweating.
Some sauna users enjoy drinking tomato juice after a sauna session, which helps replace the potassium lost through sweat.
This one is a bit obvious, but you should be drinking plenty of water if you plan to make a trip to the sauna. This is because you will be sweating a lot, and at the same time, your body will need that water to complete its healing processes.
It has been shown that the average person who spends time in a sauna can lose up to half a litre of sweat from their body. Replacing this lost water is paramount to the healing process and can greatly boost the results you receive.
Alcoholic beverages should also be avoided because they can severely dehydrate you as well.
Position in the Sauna
Something as simple as how you sit while in the sauna can impact how helpful it might be for you. Most people stay on the benches in a regular seated position. But if you spread your body out or even lie down, it can more evenly spread the effects of the sauna throughout your body. It can also allow your muscles to feel the healing effects of the sauna more swiftly to relieve the aches and tenderness.
Instead of sitting upright in your sauna, stretch out your legs and arms to enjoy the full benefits of sauna therapy. If possible, lie down because the whole body is affected by the same temperature equally. This also helps increase the range of motion/flexibility and can help expedite the reduction of pain and stiffness.
In order to maximise the health benefits of sauna bathing, make sure you have the right sauna to address all your health needs.
What To Wear In A Sauna
While it is often recommended to use a sauna naked, understandably, that will not be an option for many people!
That’s why it’s common practice for sauna goers to wear a clean towel during their sessions. You can also wear clothes or swimwear in the sauna, although they shouldn’t be tight-fitting. Shower shoes or flip flops are acceptable as long as you take them off as soon as you enter the sauna.
There are a few things that you shouldn’t wear or take into a sauna, including:
- Shoes – these are often dirty, which will be unhygienic in a sauna.
- Jewellery or anything metal – saunas get hot, and so will metal, which could cause injury.
- Clothes (and workout clothes) worn throughout the day will also be dirty, and the heat in the sauna will loosen dirt which will get onto your skin.
It is imperative that you only wear clean clothes or a clean towel into the sauna. Anything that has already been worn will leech dirt onto your skin and onto the sauna benches.
Although moderate sauna bathing is safe and beneficial for the general population, some important things to consider.
Prolonged sweating can lead to dehydration, so it’s essential to drink enough water during sauna sessions. This is particularly important for overweight people who seem to be more prone to dehydration from the sauna.
Public spas and saunas with inadequate hygiene may be sources of microbial contamination. Make sure to consult with your doctor before using a sauna if your immunity is compromised. Using home saunas shouldn’t come with this risk.
A review of clinical trials has proclaimed moderate sauna bathing safe and beneficial for patients with mild and stable forms of heart disease. On the other hand, those with severe and uncontrolled forms should avoid it. If you have heart disease, check with your doctor if a sauna is an option.
By all means, avoid drinking alcohol before and after sauna bathing. This combination can have serious adverse effects and even lead to heart failure.
While you may practice cold showers after sauna sessions, avoid sudden immersion into cold water. This may lead to dangerous changes in the heart and breath rates in sensitive individuals.