Most of us associate a good sweat with a good workout: crossfit, spinning or zumba can all get your heart pumping and the sweat flowing. Aside from the rowing machine, there’s one critical area in the gym that you’re neglecting: the sauna.
The sauna and steam room are usually associated with a spa treatment and we view the time spent relaxing as more of an indulgence, rather than a part of our health and wellness routine.
We’re the only country that thinks that way.
Other cultures have viewed sweating and dry heat as a health benefit for centuries. The Russians are known for their banya, the Finnish use saunas almost daily and the Koreans traditionally use the Hanjeungmak. Why? The benefits of sweating through dry heat are plentiful and modern research is finally catching up.
When I lived in Seattle we discovered Banya5, a unique place that combines the tradition of Turkish hammams, Russian banyas, Finnish saunas and Japanese bath houses to create an environment of wellness and vitality. The experience at Banya5 includes:
- Parilka: similar to a sauna but much hotter
- Turkish steam room: 113 degree steam room filled with fresh eucalpytus
- Salt water tepid pool: 87 degree mineral salt bath
- Cold plunge pool: an ice cold plunge pool
- Hot pool: 104 degree hot tub
- Tea Lounge and Nap room: an area to relax between rounds in the water
How did it work? I would always start in the parilka and heat up. Once I was ready, I would take a dip in the ice plunge. Going from hot to an immediate cold wakes up your body and increases circulation. Next, I’d dip into the salt water pool to recover from the shock of the cold plunge. Then I’d relax in the hot pool, followed by a steam before hitting the parilka again. It might sound kind of crazy, but the combination of water temperatures, moist and dry heat are incredibly invigorating. I would leave Banya with an insane amount of energy. It was a feeling like no other and it makes me miss Seattle so much.
Are you convinced to get into the sauna yet? If not, there’s more:
1. Sweating improves the health of your heart:
Combining exercise with sauna therapy has been shown to improve heart function. Research has shown that in patients with chronic heart failure, the combined therapy was effective in improving cardiac function, vascular function and mental health.
2. Downtime in the sauna leads to less sore muscles:
If you live for your workouts, the sauna might be exactly what you need. Research has found that spending time in the sauna improves range of motion and grip strength following exercise, which can mean a reduced recovery time.
3. Improves immune function in athletes:
When you combine using the sauna with a cool post sauna shower you achieve the perfect combination of hot/cold. The result? An immune system that mobilizes cells and has a rapid first line defense against illness. Research suggests that regular sauna use in athletes could be a way to enhance the immune system.
4. Sweating helps detoxify your skin:
Your skin in an organ of elimination and sweating is one way to open up and clear pores. Regular sweat sessions, in the sauna or at the gym, can improve circulation and blood flow. Research suggests that induced sweating can facilitate the removal of phthalate compounds, which act as endocrine disrupters in the body and can interfere with normal growth, metabolism and fertility.
Your turn: do you frequent the sauna? Have you ever been to a Russian steam room?