Heat therapies have long been used for healing and wellness, dating all the way back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. And any high-end gym has a locker room outfitted with a steam room and sauna. Both are used to promote sweating, but they use different types of heat to accomplish it. Steam rooms involve moist heat and operate at lower temperatures, usually around 110 to 120°F, while saunas use dry heat produced from a stove or hot rocks to escalate the room’s temperature up to 195°F with very low humidity.
If you can’t take the heat of a traditional sauna, you can try an infrared sauna, which is not only extremely popular these days, but generally runs a bit cooler, too. But both traditional and infrared saunas work the same way—when you sit down inside, your skin temperature rises, your pulse rate soars, and your blood starts pumping. It’s relaxing, sure, but there’s some real science behind what the high temperatures are doing for you. So if you can stand the heat, here are four medically-proven benefits to regular sauna use.
Increase Your Heart Health
One of the best benefits of regular exercise is that we keep our hearts in peak condition. But new research shows that an easy post-workout sweat session can protect your heart even further. Researchers found that, “adding 15 minutes of post-exercise sauna three times a week for eight weeks conferred additional benefits over just regular exercise.” This backs up other scientific findings that simply sitting in a sauna may also increase cardiovascular endurance, since it’s been found to lower your resting heart rate over time.
Preserve Your Pump
We’ve heard trainers suggest hitting the sauna to maintain muscle mass, but weren’t sure if it was real or simply a way to ensure their clients take care of their bodies and don’t get hurt. But a study from 2021 found that repeated sauna use “optimizes stress responses via hormesis and heat shock proteins.” What does that mean exactly? Researchers discovered that regular sauna users benefitted from the way the heat guarded against inflammation and were able to “preserve muscle mass, and counter sarcopenia—the loss of muscle tissue as a natural part of the aging process.”
Improve Your Skin
You know that glow you get after a good sauna? There’s a reason for that, says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Erin Gilbert. When you sweat, you’re removing impurities from your skin, cleaning out or unclogging your pores. That not only makes your pores appear smaller, but also minimizes future breakouts. The heat of the sauna, combined with the extra toweling off, can help you slough off dry skin cells more easily, while boosting your circulation and enhancing your natural collagen production.
Relieve Back Pain
When you’re warmed up, you’re nice and limber so you tend to feel more relaxed. Since the blood vessels actually dilate in a sauna’s heat, your blood flow increases and reduces tension in the joints while relieving sore muscles. In fact, a recent study found that regular dry sauna use can be an effective way to bring relief from stubborn lower back pain especially.
* Practice Safe Sauna: According to Harvard Medical School, you want to follow some general precautions when using a sauna regularly. Avoid alcohol and medications that may impair sweating and produce overheating, stay in no more than 15–20 minutes and drink two to four glasses of cool water after each sauna.