Health Risks and Benefits of Using a Sauna
A sauna is a small room specifically designed to heat up to very high temperatures. There are two distinct types of saunas: wet and dry. The wet saunas are more commonly known as steam sauna rooms. Temperatures in wet saunas are lower than dry saunas. For dry saunas, temperatures can reach up to 250°F but the ambient moisture is lower so that the skin doesn’t burn.
The most obvious benefit of saunas comes from the fact the high temperatures in the sauna causes blood vessels to dilate and increase the flow of blood to the skin. When the volume of blood vessels and the blood increases, your body’s blood pressure drops causing your heart to beat faster and more efficiently. This is one of the best benefits of using a sauna after a workout; you’re getting a mild cardiovascular exercise (similar to walking) just by sitting inside a room. In addition, sitting in the sauna after a workout can help eliminate dead skin cells and expose new layers of skin. Using a sauna regularly will help you have younger looking skin in no time. The high heat environment in the sauna can also help to temporarily increasing the body’s metabolic process which burns more calories (further boosting your workout).
The benefits of sauna use are balanced by possible health risks. Be aware that the biggest danger of using sauna is dehydration. This is even more important if you chose to indulge just after a workout, as you already may be a bit dehydrated from sweating during exercise. A good rule of thumb is to drink at least 30 to 32 oz. of water before you enter the sauna room. That way you won’t get dehydrated once inside. The other consideration to remember is that overheating can be extremely dangerous. Whether it’s heat from being outside or heat from sitting in a sauna – heat is heat!!! Try to remember the 15-minute rule and drink plenty of fresh cold water after you depart from the warm, soothing place of peace. In fact, you might even want to weigh yourself before and after as loss of body weight after the using the sauna means you haven’t replenished the fluids lost from the sweating that occurred while having your heart-warming indulgence!
Taking a cool shower after sauna use will help to vasoconstrict your blood vessels and keep you from feeling too dizzy or lightheaded. Remember to stretch your muscles a bit and rest for a little while to help circulate any buildup of metabolic acids that may have occurred from your exercise routine. One last bit of advice on sauna use; don’t exceed 2 or 3 sauna sessions a week as you may become too dehydrated from excess fluid losses which will have you feeling worse instead of energized. Always check with your doctor if you are on medications such as those used to treat blood pressure, blood sugar and have any type of cardiovascular condition that will keep you from being safe in the hot heat of the sauna. When in doubt, ask. If you get the green light, then feel free to relax, enjoy and refresh!
Until next time,
Keep on Moving!!!
Elizabeth Salada, MD
Internal Medicine and Wellness