Benefits of saunas

Have you ever been sitting in a sauna, sweating through every pore, wondering - when can I get out?

Did you ever think to yourself - I’ve heard this is good for me, but why?

You know that getting your sweat on is beneficial, but what do saunas do for your body, and how does sweating in a sauna compare to a sweaty workout?

Well, today, you’re going to find out.


Saunas and Health - The Cardiovascular Conundrum

The importance of saunas is underestimated. Many people use the sauna for relaxation and pleasure, but the beneficial effects can go further than discussing the weather with the person next to you.

You may have heard that physical exercise lowers blood pressure and improves cardiovascular health, it does8, but it’s not the only way. And exercise alone may not be the best way.

For context, we must first understand the role of the cardiovascular system. This complex system is responsible for transporting nutrients and blood cells around the body, and consists of the heart, lungs and blood vessels. It is essential to keep this system healthy and avoid any cardiovascular problems.

The high temperature in the sauna causes your blood vessels to dilate, increasing blood flow to the skin. Blood pressure drops and heart rate increases as a result, producing a profound kind of cardiovascular stress, similar to low intensity exercise. This process is what improves cardiovascular health.1,2,3

So, if the sauna has similar benefits to exercise, does that mean it’s a workout alternative?

It could be for some people. However, while there are merits to both practises, research shows the best results are obtained by combining the two.4


The Power of Heat Shock Proteins

Want to increase your muscle mass while sweating profusely in a sauna? While this might sound like a myth, emerging research has shown that sauna use can both enhance protein synthesis and prevent muscle breakdown.

Heat shock proteins (HSP’s) exist in our cells to protect them from extreme stress5,. These proteins help our bodies to build new muscle tissue, ensure existing tissue function and reduce oxidative stress by removing free radicals from the blood. 6,7  Oxidative stress is responsible for a lot of muscle breakdown, and minimising that is key for overall hypertrophy.

Like the name suggests, HSP’s are induced by heat. Exposing yourself to high temperatures upregulates the production of these proteins, and creates a protective stress response6,7. This means that, not only can you build more muscle tissue with sauna use, but the muscle you have will be protected.

While these benefits still stand with sauna use alone, it is clear that using both saunas and exercise together reap the best rewards.


How Often, How Long?

Ok, so now that you’re hyped on saunas and ready to sweat, knowing the correct dosage sounds like something you might be interested in. Let’s explore some protocols.

As a beginner going into the sauna post-workout, a good place to start would be 10 minutes 3 times per week. As your tolerance improves, try increasing the duration to 15-20 minutes, or add additional rounds. If you are doing multiple rounds (e.g. 2x10 minutes), make sure to include a 5 minute cooling off period in between each one.

If you’ve not done a workout first, you won’t be nice and warm to start. In this case, you could start at 15 minutes 3 times per week.

A more advanced user could try 4x10 minute rounds with 5 minutes to cool off between each.


A few tips

  • Temperature: Most saunas are typically between 70 and 100 °C (158 and 212 °F). The owner of the facility should be able to tell you how hot it is. Make sure to reduce the duration if it’s a hotter sauna.
  • You’re going to sweat a lot, keep hydrated!
  • If you feel too hot, try sitting on a lower level. As hot air rises, it’s cooler on the lower levels.
  • Still too hot? Leave the sauna to cool down. Try a cold shower, it feels great!

So, next time you’re sat there dripping, wondering when to get out… sweat it out for a minute or two, your body might just thank you.



  1. Gayda, M., Paillard, F., Sosner, P., Juneau, M., Garzon, M., Gonzalez, M., Bélanger, M. and Nigam, A. (2012). Effects of Sauna Alone and Postexercise Sauna Baths on Blood Pressure and Hemodynamic Variables in Patients With Untreated Hypertension. The Journal of Clinical Hypertension, 14(8), pp.553-560.
  2. Gayda, M., Paillard, F., Sosner, P., Juneau, M., Garzon, M., Gonzalez, M., Bélanger, M. and Nigam, A. (2012). Effects of Sauna Alone and Postexercise Sauna Baths on Blood Pressure and Hemodynamic Variables in Patients With Untreated Hypertension. The Journal of Clinical Hypertension, 14(8), pp.553-560.
  3. Laukkanen, T., Kunutsor, S., Zaccardi, F., Lee, E., Willeit, P., Khan, H. and Laukkanen, J. (2017). Acute effects of sauna bathing on cardiovascular function. Journal of Human Hypertension, 32(2), pp.129-138.
  4. Li, Z. and Srivastava, P. (2004). Heat-Shock Proteins. Current Protocols in Immunology.
  5. Naito, H., Powers, S., Demirel, H., Sugiura, T., Dodd, S. and Aoki, J. (2000). Heat stress attenuates skeletal muscle atrophy in hindlimb-unweighted rats. Journal of Applied Physiology, 88(1), pp.359-363.
  6. Schmid, J. (2017). Some like it hot: Cardiovascular health benefits of Finnish sauna. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, 25(2), pp.127-129.
  7. Schwandt, P. and Haas, G. (2019). Family Based Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors in Children by Lifestyle Change: The PEP Family Heart Study. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, pp.41-55.
  8. Selsby, J., Rother, S., Tsuda, S., Pracash, O., Quindry, J. and Dodd, S. (2007). Intermittent hyperthermia enhances skeletal muscle regrowth and attenuates oxidative damage following reloading. Journal of Applied Physiology, 102(4), pp.1702-1707.

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