You may have walked by the sauna in your local fitness club a zillion times but failed to actually use it. After all, you’re already sweaty; why would breaking even more of a sweat be any help to you?
What does it actually do?
According to Harvard Medical School, a sauna’s dry heat, which can get as high as 185° F, causes skin temperature to soar to about 104° F within minutes. The heat relieves muscle and joint pain by relaxing the muscles, which in turn speeds up recovery.
It also clears metabolic waste from the body as you work up a nice sweat — the average person will pour out a pint of sweat during a short stay in a sauna. Your pulse rate jumps by 30% or more, allowing the heart to nearly double the amount of blood it pumps each minute. So if you have a heart condition, talk to your doctor before heading into a sauna.
Why you should only hit the sauna after a workout
Save the sauna for after your workout. A pre-workout sauna session can leave you dehydrated and overheated before you even start exercising. Also, since the heat relaxes muscles, you may not put out as much effort leaving you with a wasted, half-ass workout.
Talk to your doctor before adding a sauna to your post-workout routine. If you feel dizzy, have trouble breathing or just feel bad in any way, leave the sauna immediately.
For first-timers, your sauna visit should be short — just a few minutes. Gradually build up time as your body becomes accustomed to the environment — about 20 minutes, depending on temperature and humidity levels. Basically, you should stay long enough that your body works up a nice sweat. If you start feeling light-headed or uncomfortable, you stayed too long.
Columbia Health advises against alcohol before or during a sauna session as it works as a depressant, where the blood is moving slowly and the nerve endings are literally shutting down, and counteracts the benefits of the sauna.