Packed with physical and mental benefits, a sauna routine can be amazing. And sauna—which can be used as both a noun and a verb—doesn’t just feel good. It offers benefits to your skin, body, and mood.
People use saunas for different reasons, whether at home, in the spa, or in a gym locker room. In Finland and other Scandinavian countries, the sauna has a culturally significant role. It’s not uncommon for coworkers to bond in a sauna the way workers in the United States hit happy hour, and many homes are built with an at-home sauna.
In the US, at-home sauna setups can range from around $100 to thousands of dollars depending on your choices. More expensive saunas tend to be ones that you construct within your home or outdoors. Less expensive saunas are portable tent-like structures. Regardless of which you choose, make sure to follow any directions in setup and use.
You don’t have to get totally naked to enjoy a sauna session either. “I’ve even recommended being fully clothed when taking a sauna to allow the clothing to absorb the sweat,” says Melanie Keller, N.D., a naturopathic doctor. “You then remove the clothing immediately following the sauna before rising off.”
Benefits of hitting the sauna
Ready to start your sauna journey? Take it slow in the beginning.
“Start with taking a sauna a few times per week for three months,” suggests Samantha McKinney, R.D., a registered dietitian at Life Time, a national fitness company with over 150 locations. You may begin with about 10 or 15 minutes at a time, and then may increase the length of your sessions based on your comfort level.
If you’re ready to take on the heat, here are seven benefits of sauna use.
Helps preserve muscle mass
Not only can using a sauna clear your mind, it could potentially help you reach your fitness goals faster, says McKinney. One 2021 study on how saunas might extend “healthspan,” or the number of years you are living with vitality, found that sauna use may actually help preserve muscle mass, as well as help guard against inflammation.
Boosts heart health
That said, time in the sauna isn’t exactly the same as a traditional sweat session in the gym. Because you’re not actually using your muscles the way you would be if you were working out, sauna isn’t necessarily a standalone fitness benefit. However, used in conjunction with a workout plan, you may find yourself being able to go harder for longer and recover more quickly than if you skipped the sauna.
Improves skin strength
Using a sauna can also be amazing for your skin, although the specifics may be up to your skin type. The heat of the sauna can help you slough off dry skin cells more easily, and sweating can also lead to better circulation and enhanced collagen production.
Clears your pores
Sweating can also help cleanse your pores, all of which is to say your skin may seem more clear after using the sauna. But if you have a skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis, experts caution that the sauna may aggravate your skin. Speak to your dermatologist prior to using the sauna and stop if you notice any rashes or skin conditions develop. Since saunas can be moist, public saunas may be a breeding ground for bacteria and mold, which could cause potential skin conditions.
Helps you relax
Hitting the sauna can also be a great way decompress from the day, says McKinney, adding that many people like hitting the sauna in the evening as a way to unwind. Regardless of when you go into the sauna, it’s key to be hydrated and refrain from drinking alcohol prior to your sauna session.
Eases lower back pain
Heat in the form of a heat pack or Epsom salt bath is often touted as a tool for relief from muscle pain or soreness, so it makes sense that a dry sauna may have similar effects. In fact, a 2019 study showed that it can be an effective way to bring relief from lower back pain. The study authors recommend giving it a try for a couple of sessions to see if it actually helps lessen symptoms before regularly using it as part of your treatment plan.
Of course it’s possible that using a sauna comes with risks, especially if you’re doing it wrong or going too often.
Because you’re sweating, you may be at risk of dehydration. That’s why it’s important to hydrate prior to hitting the sauna, refrain from alcohol.
“Before using the sauna, make sure you’re hydrated enough that your urine is a pale yellow,” says McKinney. “A rule of thumb suggestion is to consume 20 ounces or so an hour before, and continue to sip on water leading up to entering. If you’re exercising beforehand, ensure you not only head into your workout hydrated, but also consume at least 16 ounces of water per hour of exercise.”
Or, use the sauna on your off days. If you do use it after exercise, McKinney adds that you can also add electrolyte powder or sip on an electrolyte drink prior to hopping in the sauna.
If you’re dizzy or lightheaded, that means it’s time to get out, says McKinney. Before you step into the sauna, it can also be a good idea to talk through your plans with your doctor, particularly if you have any preexisting conditions. One 2018 systematic review study found that sauna risks may include low blood pressure and airway irritation, among other potential health hazards.
Temporary low sperm count
There may be reason to avoid frequent sauna visits if you’re trying to conceive: Some studies have found that sauna use may reduce sperm count, although the effect is temporary.
Increased or lowered blood pressure
If you’ve experienced low or high blood pressure or have had a heart attack, it’s advised that you talk to your doctor before using a sauna. If you have low blood pressure and do get the OK to use it, keep your sauna session on the short end and cap it at 20 minutes. Be sure to stay hydrated while you’re in there, and exit the sauna if you start to feel lightheaded.
Regardless of whether yo
u hit the sauna at home, at the gym, or at a spa, experiencing a sweat sesh should be a ‘no sweat’ experience that may leave you feeling healthier, happier, and stronger.
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