For many people, saunas are a way of life. Whether you use one after a workout or simply to unwind, saunas can offer health benefits.
So how much time should you spend in a sauna and how often should you go? We look at tips on what to do — or what not to do — when you use one.
If you’ve never used a sauna before, sources like the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Sauna Society, and expert sauna bathers generally agree: You should start small.
- For beginners. Don’t use a sauna for more than 5 to 10 minutes at a time.
- After exercising. Wait at least 10 minutes before entering the sauna after exercise.
- At maximum. Don’t use the sauna more than about 15 minutes at a time.
While some experienced sauna users, especially in Finland, may turn the sauna into a longer social event, don’t overdo it. The longer you stay in the sauna, the more you risk dehydration, so a general rule is to cap your time to 15 to 20 minutes.
The Finnish, who the word “sauna” comes from, may have an even simpler suggestion since the sauna is meant for relaxing, not ticking off minutes: Leave the sauna once you feel hot enough.
Keep reading to find out why those few minutes in the sauna and frequent use might be good for you.
While saunas are wildly popular for relaxation and for socializing, using a sauna at the end of your workout — or your work day — can be beneficial for your health.
- Improved heart function. A review suggests that frequent sauna use has been linked to improved heart function in people with heart failure.
- Lowered risk of stroke. A long-ranging study with more than 1,600 Finnish men and women over the course of several years, found that frequent sauna bathing, as much as four to seven times per week, was connected to reduced risk of stroke.
- Reduced risk of dementia. A similar study of 2,315 Finnish men found a connection between how often participants used saunas and a lowered risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Reduced inflammation and muscle soreness. Other small studies concluded that people’s use of far-infrared sauna could help reduce muscle soreness after a workout and found that how frequently you use saunas may help reduce systemic inflammation. Infrared sauna use varied from two to five times a week.
It’s important to note that there are potential risks involved with saunas, including dehydration and a possible temporary decrease in fertility in men.
While saunas are generally safe, it’s important to make sure you know how to use one properly, as well as how long to enjoy it.
If your gym or spa has both a sauna and a steam room, you might be tempted to use both. Since they offer similar benefits, it’s fine to stick to just one during your visit.
If you’re trying out both, there isn’t any rule about which you should visit first. Go with your personal preference, but always allow your body a 10-minute break before starting another session. You’ll also want to take a quick shower between them to be polite to any other users.
Steam rooms are often referred to as ‘wet saunas’, but they’re not actually a type of sauna even though they’re similar. Sauna is a Finnish word describing the specific high level of heat within the room. On the other hand, a steam room is more closely related to a Turkish bath with its high level of humidity.
Sauna and steam room comparison chart
|Type of heat||Dry to humid||Humid or wet heat|
|Common temperature ranges||150 to 195°F (66 to 91°C); not more than 212°F (100°C)||Around 100 to 110°F (38 to 43°C)|
|Recommended length of stay||To your comfort level or up to 5 to 10 minutes at a time in total or per section with cooling breaks in between||To your comfort level and less than 15 minutes|
Although they’re often used for similar reasons, especially after a workout or a stressful day, the benefits of using a steam room vary slightly based on their differences.
Saunas have been used in Scandinavia for thousands of years. Historically, saunas began as earth pits covered by animal skins that evolved into traditional saunas where wood is burned in a stove, with or without a chimney.
There’s also a basket of rocks above the stove where water can be thrown to increase “löyly”, or steam, and make the sauna more humid.
There are several types of saunas used today, and the most common are:
- Wood-burning. Stoves are used to heat the sauna rocks, allowing you to keep temperatures high.
- Electric. These are the most commonly used saunas today thanks to convenient, safe, and easy-to-use electric heaters.
- Infrared. Instead of heating the air around you, infrared saunas radiate heat that warms your body directly. While this isn’t technically a traditional sauna, it offers similar benefits at lower temperatures.
- Smoke. Similar to a wood-burning sauna, a stove burns wood that heats the air as well as the rocks on top of the stove. However, the smoke sauna doesn’t have a chimney. After the sauna warms up, smoke is vented and the door is closed while the heat remains.
If you want to use a sauna at the gym, make sure you know what to expect. Public saunas often have different rules about use. While they’re typically enjoyed naked, find out what’s normal at your location before you strip. Keep these things in mind:
- Know before you go. Learn the rules and expectations at the sauna location you’re visiting.
- Shower first. You’ll want to take a quick shower before hopping in the sauna as a common courtesy, and wrap yourself in a towel. Some people consider this more comfortable than a swimsuit.
- Share the space. Sitting closest to the stones above the stove? In a Finnish sauna, this means you’ll be expected to splash a little water on them periodically to release more steam. If you’re unsure of what to do or how often, simply ask.
- Rinse and repeat. After using the sauna, experienced users recommend taking a cold shower or a dip in any icy body of water before visiting for another session.
- Take it easy and stay hydrated. If you’re not ready or comfortable with a second round, take a final shower and make sure to drink plenty of water.
The No. 1 rule for visiting saunas and steam rooms is the same — always shower beforehand. Beyond that? Pay attention to how other people are behaving to get a sense of what’s appropriate in that particular location. And bringing a towel to sit on is polite, too.
One of the most important things to remember when using a sauna or a steam room is to take it slow. While saunas are generally considered safe and offer potential health benefits, it’s important to prevent dehydration. And remember, how you feel and how your body responds to the heat can be different each time.
Don’t try to use a sauna to induce weight loss, which will primarily be water loss. Make sure to drink water before and after using a sauna. If you’re worried, talk to your healthcare provider before visiting a sauna.
Speak to staff at the sauna’s location for tips, answers to any questions, and guidance on what to expect there. Consult your doctor before you use a sauna if you’re pregnant.
In the end, visiting a sauna should be a pleasant and rejuvenating experience. Remember to relax, take a deep breath, and enjoy.