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How long should I stay in a sauna?

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.

Benefits of using a sauna

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.

Potential risks

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.

Should I use a sauna or steam room?

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.

Heat or humidity

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.

What is a sauna?

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.

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