Saunas have many great benefits for athletic performance, recovery, detox, skin and longevity. Sauna has been shown to significantly increase the human growth hormone levels in the human body.
Sauna originates from Finland (it's also a Finnish word) and it has been part of the Northern cultures for hundreds of years.
In Finland it's common for almost every house and apartment building to have at least one sauna. Most kids have used sauna since they were 3-4 years old.
As a person who has his heritage in Finland, I haven't just used sauna for hundreds of times, but thousands of times. I might not be a PhD of Sauna Science, but I certainly got the experience.
Rhonda Patrick (PhD in biomedical science) has thoroughly researched hyperthermic conditioning, sauna use and the benefits of heat adaptation.
Below is her video demonstrating many benefits of hyperthermic conditioning and heat adaptation:
Sauna for Recovery, Hypertrophy and Endurance
1. Sauna increases growth hormone and IGF-1 levels in the body
Growth hormone and IGF-1 help your body to recover. They are anabolic, which means they burn fat and build lean muscle tissue.
Both growth hormone and IGF-1 also promote muscle repair, which means your muscles will recover faster from your workouts.
2. Sauna increases endurance capacity
When you get acclimated to sauna, your body's blood flow to your muscles increases. The effect will improve your endurance when the next time you do cardio.
According to Rhonda Patrick, sauna reduces the dependence on glycogen, which means your muscles will get access to nutrients at a higher rate.
The blood flow is also increased to the heart, which plays a major role. Lower heart rate allows you to run with a faster pace and it also improves your cardiovascular mechanisms.
Sauna also lowers the body temperature during exercise, which means you can run longer distances without overheating.
3. Sauna improves your ability to gain muscle
Sauna increases hypertrophy (gaining muscle), because not only growth hormone levels are elevated, but your body's insulin sensitivity is also increased. Production of heat shock proteins is induced as well.
In a study, rats had 30% more muscle regrowth when they were stressed with heat.
Health Benefits of Sauna
Improvement in endurance capacity and muscle building are only some of the great benefits of sauna.
1. Sauna increases longevity
According to Patrick, the lifespan of flies and worms were boosted about 15% with hyperthermic conditioning. This is huge!
Growth hormone also affects the longevity of humans, because it prevents oxidation of cells. Growth hormone has amazing 16-fold increase with sauna.
Deaths from cardiovascular disease was also 50% less likely in the group of men who used sauna for 3-4 times a week, when compared to those who only used it once per week.
People who have used sauna multiple times a week, had 40% reduction in mortality from all causes.
2. Sauna improves focus, attention and brain performance
Regular sauna use increases the amount of brain-derived neurotrophic factors, which have numerous of benefits. BDNFs:
- Increases the growth of new brain cells.
- Improves survival of existing brain cells.
- Improves learning and retention.
Prolactin hormone is also increased in the brain, which improves focus and attention.
3. Sauna for detox, skin and acne
When you visit a sauna, you will sweat a lot. Likely more than you have ever sweat before. As a result, using sauna is amazing for detox, because your body releases all the bad chemicals and bad metals in sweat.
Sauna is also a superb tool to cleanse your skin. Going to sauna will improve your hygiene, which can reduce acne and improve the quality of your skin.
4. Sauna for relaxation, stress and anti-inflammation
One of the great benefits of sauna is that it's actually a relaxing and a quiet place. Your mind and your muscles will relax.
Going to sauna can have meditative benefits. Sauna sessions can have similar benefits as meditation, where you are just in the "zone" and completely in the present moment.
The reduction in stress will decrease stress induced inflammation in the entire body.
How to use sauna?
Heat the sauna to a minimum of 60'C or 140F. Take off your clothes and just sit inside the sauna as long as you'll feel like it.
In a conventional sauna you throw water to the sauna stove, which in return increases the humidity of the air and the heat of the sauna.
When to use sauna?
For training benefits, the optimal time to use the sauna is to go there after your workout. Many gyms have saunas or steam rooms, which make it easy for you to use the sauna after a workout.
Otherwise, you can use the sauna any time of the day, but it's commonly used in the evening.
How many times can you go to sauna?
Many Finns go to sauna every day. You can go as many times as you like. Once a week is ok. Five times a week is ok.
Where can you find sauna?
You can find saunas in most bigger gyms and spas. In Finland every house has a sauna though.
How long can you stay in sauna?
For a long time. The regular sauna sessions vary from 10 minutes to 30 minutes. As long as you are properly hydrated, you can stay in a sauna for long periods of time.
Most people go to sauna for a while, take a break and go for a second or a third round.
Can you drink alcohol in sauna?
In Finland and Scandinavia, hundreds of adults and teenager get seriously drunk in the sauna everyday.
Alcohol will increase dehydration, but if most Finnish people can use sauna the entire evening while drinking nothing but alcohol, it's certainly possible to do it safely.
Although it's possible to stumble to the sauna stove, or pass out - this almost never happens. It never happens with healthy adults.
Can you burn in sauna?
Seriously? No. Going to sauna is extremely safe.
Only if you touch the stove, you can get serious burns. If you use a seriously hot sauna and throw lots of water to the stove, you can experience mild burns which will recover almost immediately.
Sources and photo credits
What’s your opinion on hopping right into a cold swimming pool after a 10 minute sauna session? It seems to help me with recovery and I do it a few times a week.
Excellent website btw. Just started using your muscle up guide and I particularly enjoyed your article on animal walks. Keep up the good work!
They are great Umair. It has the same benefits as contrast showers (hot+cold showers), they should be good for health and fitness.
Glad you are enjoying the guide!
Hungary is famous for public pools, where pools are of various temps to achieve the contrast benefits. I loved going to them the year that I lived there!
Thank you for this informative and helpful post. I’ve been trying to incorporate sauna/steam room use at our gym the past year+, but don’t usually manage more than 1-2x/wk n 10-15 min/session. But now I’m doing a 26-day detox (to try to make more progress on stubborn fatigue-related issues) n this program strongly encourages sauna use, daily if at all possible.
On Day 2, I’m still batting a thousand, so I’m hopeful I can keep up the habit at least 5x/wk. Although I knew that sauna was beneficial, I had no idea it was good for health in so many ways. Thanks again for your lengthy list of pros!
P.S. Do you have any preference as to the type of sauna (i.e., traditional vs. near/far infrared)? It seems like near infrared saunas are the choice of many these days. My gym has a traditional sauna that’s set at about 160F.
Glad you enjoyed the article!
I would sort different saunas in this order:
Wood heated traditional sauna > Electricity heated traditional sauna > infrared sauna.
It’s probably a preference but throwing water to the stove for humidity and heat feels very good and make sitting in the sauna more interesting experience.
Wooden saunas also have a very different feeling compared to electric saunas, but you will probably only find these in Finland or Sweden.
160F is perfect temperature for most people.