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The inside of a sauna

As the weather cools down, the heated spaces inside Life Time’s clubs pick up in popularity. Our dry-heat saunas and eucalyptus-infused steam rooms offer more than warm respite from the cold, however. These luxurious amenities can help your body prepare for — and recover from — your workouts at the club, in addition to even broader health benefits.

If you’ve ever wondered about why, when, and how to use these facilities, read on. You may just feel inspired to try a little heat therapy on your next visit. 

Reap the Health and Fitness Benefits

Relax and unwind in your choice of heat. Both the sauna and steam room can encourage deep relaxation, so let your preference be your guide. Breathe deeply in the moist heat of the steam room, which reaches a maximum temperature of 115 degrees F (with 100 percent humidity); just press the steam button when you walk into the room if it’s not already on. Or let tension melt away in the sauna, which is typically heated between 160 and 180 degrees F.

Choose dry heat for a pre-workout warm-up. Before you hit the fitness floor or step into your favorite class, take a few minutes to prepare your body in the sauna, which will increase the blood flow in your body and raise your core temperature — two features of a good warm-up. You’ll still want to do some joint-specific movements before you get into your full workout, but the sauna can give you a great jump-start, especially in the colder months or if you are working out after a long day of being sedentary. Bonus: Use the sauna in your workout clothes so you can get to work right after!

Recover in either dry or moist heat. The sauna and steam room are both beneficial post-exercise and are especially nice for recovery days. The heat induces increased blood flow, which can help reduce soreness after a workout. Research suggests both sauna and steam-room use can decrease inflammation in the body as well, which can also decreases stiffness and soreness.

Consider regular sauna use for heart and brain health. A growing body of research points to a decreased risk of heart attack and stroke for people who use the sauna multiple times a week; other research suggests that regular sauna use may reduce dementia risk. In a study published by the University of Eastern Finland, researchers found an association between frequent sauna bathing (one to three times per week) and reduced all-cause mortality. More research is needed to understand exactly how the sauna may deliver health benefits, but scientists speculate that the heat induces a stress-adaptation response in the body similar to that of exercise.

Boost workout results with sauna heat. From a performance standpoint, research suggests post-workout sauna use may increase physical endurance. Note that while sauna use offers similar benefits to physical exercise, it isn’t a replacement; in fact, it seems to work better when paired with exercise rather than used alone.

Try the steam room to alleviate congestion. The warm, moist air of the steam room, coupled with the aromatherapy benefits of diffused eucalyptus oil, can provide respiratory relief for people with sinus congestion or allergies. Our steam rooms are cleaned every 20 to 30 minutes throughout the day, but please avoid using the steam room if you’re sneezing, coughing, or otherwise contagious.

Support your skin in the sauna. As your body temperature rises and you work up a sweat in the sauna, the pores of your skin dilate, releasing trapped dirt and oil, which is carried away by sweat. Your blood vessels dilate, as well, which allows more blood to reach the skin’s surface, delivering nutrients that support healthy skin. Post-sauna, be sure to rinse off in a cool shower and then moisturize, as the hot temperatures can dry out your skin. 

Stay Safe in the Heat

Avoid the heat if you have certain health issues. The sauna and steam room can increase your core temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure, which can all negatively impact those who are dealing with certain health issues. Talk to your physician if you have a condition that potentially contraindicates sauna or steam-room use, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, or kidney issues. If you’re pregnant, consult your doctor before using these spaces; certain birth defects have been associated with exposure to high temperatures.

Ease into the heat. If you’re new to saunas or steam rooms, start with five-minute visits and work up to 10 to 20 minutes per visit as your body acclimates to the higher temperatures.

Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water, especially after using the sauna, as you can sweat out a couple of glasses’ worth even after a brief session. If you’re feeling dehydrated, drink a sugar-free electrolyte mix to keep your fluids balanced.

Be sauna-smart. Our dry-heat saunas are designed for safety, but there are a few things that could create a hazard. Please refrain from leaving clothes in the sauna to dry, and don’t pour water on the rocks in the heating element.

Practice Proper Etiquette

Think modesty. To maintain a hygienic and comfortable experience for everyone, we require members to remain covered in the sauna and steam room. A towel is adequate in men- or women-only facilities. In co-ed units, a swimsuit or workout gear is appropriate.

Share the space. It feels great to lie down and soak up the heat, but if the sauna or steam room is crowded, be mindful about giving others enough space to enjoy the experience, too.

Protect the peace. Refrain from talking on your phone in these serene spaces; even bringing your phone into the room may make others uncomfortable (and your phone won’t be happy for long, either). Shaving and exercising in these spaces are not allowed.

To make the most of heat therapy, experts recommend using the sauna or steam room three or more times per week, making it a consistent part of your healthy-living lifestyle. Much of the research on their health benefits looks at regular use — though of course it feels great to just stop in when you can, too.

Jill Patton, FMCHC

Jill Patton, FMCHC, is a Minneapolis-based health writer and functional-medicine certified health coach.

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