Saunas have been used for centuries for relaxation, detoxification, and health promotion. Recently, sauna exposure has been investigated as a potential strategy to enhance athletic/gym performance. The purpose of this article is to provide a review on the effects of sauna exposure on athletic/gym performance, including the potential mechanisms, benefits, and risks.
Improved cardiovascular health: Sauna exposure has been shown to increase heart rate, blood flow, and plasma volume, which may improve cardiovascular function and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Reduced inflammation: Sauna exposure has been shown to reduce inflammation by increasing anti-inflammatory cytokines and reducing pro-inflammatory cytokines.
Improved thermoregulation: Sauna exposure can improve the body's ability to regulate temperature, which may enhance athletic performance and reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses like heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat syncope (dizziness) and heat stroke.
Enhanced immune function: Sauna exposure has been shown to stimulate the production of white blood cells, which play a key role in immune function. Reduced stress: Sauna exposure can induce a state of relaxation and reduce stress by increasing the production of endorphins and reducing levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Improved skin health: Sauna exposure can improve skin health by increasing blood flow to the skin, promoting the production of collagen, and reducing the appearance of wrinkles. Improved muscle recovery: Sauna exposure has been shown to increase blood flow to the muscles, which may enhance muscle recovery and reduce muscle soreness.
There is some evidence to suggest that sauna use may increase growth hormone levels in the body. Growth hormone is a hormone that plays a crucial role in growth, development, and metabolism.
One study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that men who used a sauna for two 30-minute sessions separated by a 5-minute cooling period experienced a 2-fold increase in growth hormone levels compared to baseline. Another study published in the same journal found that regular sauna use over a 6-month period resulted in a significant increase in growth hormone levels in men. Sauna exposure has been shown to induce the production of heat shock proteins (HSPs) in the body. HSPs are a group of proteins that play a crucial role in cellular protection and repair processes in response to stress. HSP can Improved cellular health, Reduced oxidative stress, Enhanced immune function, Improved muscle recovery, Reduced risk of chronic diseases, Improved thermotolerance
The optimal duration for sauna exposure depends on various factors such as your age, health status, and personal tolerance to heat. It's generally recommended that beginners start with shorter sauna sessions of 5-8 minutes and gradually increase the duration as they become accustomed to the heat. The American Heart Association suggests that individuals use saunas for no more than 5-20 minutes at a time from 2-3 times per week ranging in temperature between 176-212oF. It's also recommended to take breaks in between sauna sessions to allow the body to cool down. It's important to stay hydrated during sauna use by drinking water before, during, and after the session to replace fluids lost through sweating. It's always best to consult with a healthcare provider before starting sauna use, particularly if you have any underlying medical conditions or are taking any medications that may be affected by heat exposure.
Overall, sauna exposure can offer a range of health benefits, although the specific benefits may depend on the individual and the frequency, duration, and intensity of exposure. It's important to note that sauna exposure is not recommended for everyone, particularly individuals with certain medical conditions or who are pregnant, and it's always best to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new health regimen.
HND Sports Therapy
BSc Sport and Exercise Science
Les Mills Instructor - Pump, Attack, Tone, GRIT and Sprint