The sauna is one of the most under-utilized spaces in the club, yet it has the potential to yield some of the greatest benefits, especially when it comes to recovery. The benefits of heat therapy range from stimulating hormone production, ridding the body of toxins, and improving cardiovascular health, speed recovery and injury rehabilitation. Once you realize the positive impacts of using the sauna, we hope you’ll prioritize this practice within your program.
How Heat Stress Aids in Recovery
There’s a reason all of our clubs have saunas. Studies show that brief, intermittent periods of extreme heat creates a stress response, which then trickles a series of reactions in the body that can have positive effects on your recovery.
When the body is exposed to extreme heat, core temperatures will start to increase within 5-15 minutes.
As temperature rises, the body responds by rerouting blood flow, speeding up heart rate, increasing blood vessel dilation and secreting a number of hormones.
Heat also stimulates heat-shock proteins, which are thought to play a role in the growth of muscle tissue. They also support the immune system by identifying proteins from cells that don’t belong in the body.
Post-Workout and Injury Recovery
Heat therapy has benefits immediately following an injury or surgery, and during the rehab period when strength and muscle mass are rebuilt.
Injuries result in muscle damage, a strong immune response, and tissue breakdown.
Joints are immobilized immediately following the injury and without movement, the muscles around the joints atrophy quickly.
Evidence suggests intermittent exposure to heat stress reduces the rate of atrophy, or muscle catabolism. It also reduces the buildup of free radicals, which are typically increased in immobilized muscle.[iv],[v]
Sauna and steam rooms may also aid in the recovery process, once rehabilitation and strengthening begin. During the rehab process, strength and muscle mass are slowly regained.
The high rates of oxidation may compromise the recovery rates. The oxidation can cause damage to cell membranes, and uses up much of the body’s glutathione stores.
Heat therapy reduces the rates of oxidation and increases the rate of muscle tissue regrowth.[vi] I thought it was pretty cool to see that the referenced study was funded by the National Football League Players Association. No doubt pro football players would benefit from regular sauna or steam sessions.
With heat therapy’s ability to enhance muscle growth and limit oxidation, it should also enhance the recovery process from exercise for healthy individuals. Combining heat therapy and the use of essential amino acids and curcumin is a great way to speed recovery and support growth of muscle.
Heat therapy is also recommended for others with chronic pain, such as arthritis or other degenerative diseases.[vii]
Heat and Detoxification
A great place to incorporate heat therapy into your routine is through using the sauna. The sauna is well-known for its ability to support detoxification and is superior to the steam room for detoxification because people sweat more due to the lower humidity and higher temperature.
A large amount of everyday toxins are released through sweat. This can be especially beneficial for those losing large amounts of weight. The body stores toxins in fat cells as a way to isolate them from the rest of the body’s cells. As someone loses body fat, toxins are released as well. Sweating helps to remove them from the body. To maximize the removal of toxins, periodically wipe off your sweat with a towel while you’re in the sauna.
To fully appreciate the detoxifying effects of the sauna, consider pairing it up with a high-quality detoxification program.
Other Sauna Benefits
Sauna sessions increase production of white blood cells, enhancing immune function. In fact, regular sauna sessions have been shown to reduce the chance of catching a cold.
Sauna sessions have also been shown to help those with respiratory dysfunctions, heart disease, and for preventing infections.[viii],[ix],[x]
Even though the heat makes the heart work harder, there is a lot of evidence to show it is beneficial for those with cardiovascular disease.
Cooling down quickly is as important as the heat exposure. To speed the cool down period, take a cold shower or bath. If your body remains overheated, intravascular volume can decrease and hematocrit levels can increase.[xiii]
Also, without cooling down quickly, cortisol levels may continue to rise and individuals may feel fatigued for much of the day afterwards. If you feel overly tired following heat therapy, try cooling off faster with a colder shower. You should feel refreshed, not worn out from the sauna.
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(Article has been adapted from its original form which can be found here.)
This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.
[iii] Pilch W, Szygula Z, Klimek AT, Palka T, Cison T, et al. Changes in the lippid profile of blood serum in women taking sauna baths of various duration. Int J Occup Med Environ Health. 2010;23(2):167-174
[vi] Selsby JT, Rother S, Tsuda S, Prachas O, Quindry J, Dodd SL. Intermittent hyperthermia enhances skeletal muscle regrowth and attenuates oxidative damage following reloading. J Appl Physiol. 2007;102:1702-1707
[xii] Magalhães FD, Amorim FT, Freitas Passos RL, Fonseca MA, Moreira Oliveira KP, et al. Heat and exercise acclimation increases intracellular levels of Hsp72 and inhibits exercise-induced increase in intracellular and plasma Hsp72 in humans. Cell Stress Chaperones 2010;15:885–895.
[xiv] MedicineNet.com. Polycythemia (High Red Blood Cell Count). Online article. Retrieved Sept 24, 2014. http://www.medicinenet.com/polycythemia_high_red_blood_cell_count/page5.htm#what_are_the_symptoms_of_polycythemia
[xv] Pilch W, Szygula, Z Palka T, Pilch P, Cison T, et al. Comparison of physiological reactions and physiological strain in healthy men under heat stress in dry and steam heat saunas. Biol Sport. 2014;31:145-149