Is the sauna genuinely making me fitter?

Have you ever had that thing where somebody says something to you and you just can’t stop thinking about it? It’s quite strange really. I mean, think about how much we hear in a day and, on the most part, forget. But then one little thing can get through and play on your mind. Well I had that earlier this week. It wasn’t the first time that somebody has told me that one of the best things you can do for your health is make regular visits to your local sauna. 

So what’s the deal? Is this something that started as a joke in the Scandinavian health spas? Or maybe it is born out of genuine scientific evidence?

Sweat. Anyone who has spent time in saunas will know that it doesn’t take long for our bodies to react to the heat as soon as we enter this wooden box. Profuse sweating is not only common, it’s the norm. And how do you know when you have worked hard on cardio? Well most people will base that on the amount they sweat. Somebody who walks out of the gym dripping will always look like they have worked harder than someone who looks as dry as a bone.

We sweat to cool down. It is that simple. But to believe that is the only function that it provides is doing it a great injustice! Just look at the benefits sweat brings to detoxification. Loads of toxins that our body has no interest in retaining are removed in our sweat every time we get hot. Or nervous, anxious and excited for that matter.

The heat has its own other effects too. You can click here to read a previous blog on how temperature can be used in our training. Just remember, a sauna isn’t like going outside on a hot summers day. Well, not in the UK anyway. We are talking about temperatures upwards of 40 and 50 degrees Celsius. And what that does is forces our blood vessels to dilate, allowing blood flow to increase around our bodies. The heat also opens the pores of our skin and that has led to the sauna acquiring this reputation of being sensational for our skin health. And if you have ever felt your skin after being in a sauna, it isn’t difficult to see why.

Conditioning in the fitness world has really embraced the idea of contrasting hot and cold extreme conditions in our training in recent years. Ice baths and cold showers are now as common in the sporting world as a post-match massage or a half-time orange! And while in reality it is possible to create their own ice baths at home, it is unlikely that you own your own sauna. So when it comes to trying to create that hot extreme, you really are limited for choices.

When it comes to these disputed reputations my advice is always to give it a go. If you know that what you are going to try isn’t unsafe and it isn’t going to break the bank balance then why not? If you don’t believe that a sauna will help you to get fitter then that is fine. But if you want to see if it can lend a helping hand then you haven’t got a lot to lose in giving it a go! Just make sure you stick to the guidelines on how long you should be in there and then see if it is making a difference.

The science seems to suggest that it should have an impact but that doesn’t mean you have found your replacement for cardio! Don’t be afraid to try new things and if nothing else, you will have a better idea of what works for you!

Ollie Lawrence
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