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Exercise benefits of Sauna

Sauna therapy is an emerging treatment in the health, wellness and fitness world. It has been shown to have many benefits, ranging from cardiovascular to cognitive to dermatologic. Not only are the potential benefits quite numerous, but they have been shown in older adults (50+) with cardiovascular risk factors as well as young, healthy endurance athletes.




Sauna Mimics Exercise

One of the leading benefits of sauna treatment, particularly amongst runners, is the way in which it can mimic exercise. A study performed in 2019 demonstrated that the acute benefits of sauna (during use) is an increase in Heart Rate (HR), increase in Blood Pressure (BP) and a subsequent increase in Myocardial oxygen consumption (systolic BP x HR). These acute responses to the sauna can be likened to that of low-intensity exercise of about 60-100 watts (1).


While there are similarities between sauna use and exercise, there are certainly significant differences as well. Because sauna is a passive therapy, you do not get the benefits of active exercise, such as muscle strengthening, tendon loading, bone health, etc. While the use of a sauna certainly has physiologic and cardiovascular benefit, it does not replace the benefit of exercise. However, as we will discuss further below, sauna in addition to exercise, can offer even more profound benefits than either therapy alone. (1)


Beyond the acute benefits of sauna use, the physiological adaptations to sauna use (your body's longer term response after weeks of treatment) are also similar to that of exercise, resulting in a reduction in resting heart rate (HR) and blood pressure (BP), increased plasma volume, and improved sweat rate, which allows you to allow you to become more efficient at cooling yourself.


These benefits can be profound for someone who is looking to improve their health or fitness or that of one who is looking to supplement their training to maximize performance (more on this below).


Sauna Enhances the Benefits of Exercise

As discussed above, sauna use can produce cardiovascular and physiologic responses that are similar to that of exercise; however, what happens if we combine the effects of sauna use with exercise? Are the effects even greater? If so, are there certain populations that benefit more than others?


There have been several studies over recent years that have demonstrated the advantage of post-exercise sauna treatment on cardiovascular health as well as fitness and endurance performance. Post-exercise sauna refers to a period of exercise followed by a short duration (15-30 min) of sauna use.


A study by Lee et al. in 2022 demonstrated that in a group of adults with at least 1 cardiovascular disease risk factor, 30 min of exercise followed by a 15 min sauna session over 8 weeks resulted in improved cardiorespiratory fitness, greater BP reduction and greater cholesterol reduction when compared to an exercise only group (2).


Another study by Scoon et al in 2007 demonstrated that in 6 male distance runners, a 3 week period of post-exercise sauna use for about 30 minutes, resulted in 32% increase in run time to exhaustion, which is equivalent to about a 2% performance improvement in an endurance time trial (3).


Takeaways

All of this data suggests that in both healthy athletes and adults with health conditions, sauna use, particularly post-exercise, can improve health, endurance and performance. When utilized in conjunction with exercise, the sauna can actually act as an addition to your workout. It can serve as an extra stressor to the body to signal it to become stronger and adapt to a higher level or longer duration of activity.


With that said, as with all training, sometimes too much stress on the body can be detrimental. Although sauna is a passive therapy, it can still put strain on the body, particularly when used in conjunction with exercise, so it is important to monitor your training load. We want to be sure that we are improving rather than impeding our adaptation to activity by avoiding over-training.


As a PT clinic that specializes in treating runners, it is one of our greatest missions to keeping runners healthy and moving. We are often searching for ways to help improve recovery, promote wellness, reduce risk for injury and maximize performance.


The sauna can be a very useful tool for those who are currently injured and are looking for ways to maintain their fitness while they aren't able to be as active, for those who are training for a long race, but need to reduce impact or time on their feet due to pain/injury, or for those who are looking to acclimate to warmer temperatures prior to a race/event.


 

If you have any questions about our sauna or whether or not it would be helpful for you or would like to try a sauna session, please reach out to us at customerservice@omegaprojectpt.com or 302-570-7027.


 

RESOURCES


1. Ketelhut S, Ketelhut RG. The blood pressure and heart rate during sauna bath correspond to cardiac responses during submaximal dynamic exercise. Complement Ther Med. 2019 Jun;44:218-222. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2019.05.002. Epub 2019 May 2. PMID: 31126559.


2. Lee et al. Effects of Regular Sauna Bathing in Conjunction with Exercise on Cardiovascular Function: A Multi-Armed Randomized Control Trial. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 323: R289–R299, 2022 doi:10.1152/ajpregu.00076.2022 https://journals.physiology.org/doi/epdf/10.1152/ajpregu.00076.2022


3. Scoon G, Hopkins WG, Mayhew S, Cotter, JD. Effect of post-exercise sauna bathing on the endurance performance of competitive male runners,Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport 10:4: 259-262, 2007 doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2006.06.009.


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