Is It Unhealthy to Use a Sauna After a Workout?

Many health clubs and fitness centers offer saunas to help members relax and unwind after exercising. The dry heat of a sauna offers many health benefits when used safely, but can cause serious harm as well. As long as you take proper precautions and keep hydrated, using a sauna after a workout can be both safe and soothing.

The interior of a sauna with hot rocks. (Image: Bülent Umut/iStock/Getty Images)

Benefits

A typical sauna is heated to a temperature between 160 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Such high temperatures help you relax, remove salt from your system, lower your pulse and blood pressure, soothe sore muscles from your workout and alleviate arthritis pain.

Weight Loss Myth

A commonly held belief about saunas is that sitting in them will help you lose weight. While it may seem logical that raising your body temperature can melt away fat, it is not the case. If you notice a drop in your weight after sitting in a sauna, you're probably noticing a loss of water weight from sweating. As soon as you replenish the liquids in your body, you'll gain the weight back.

Risks

In a sauna, your body sweats as a way to cool itself and maintain a steady core temperature. The longer you stay in a sauna, the more water you lose. If you've already been sweating from your workout, a sauna can cause you to become dehydrated quickly. As you lose water through sweating, your blood vessels dilate and your blood pressure drops. After a while, your body can no longer cool itself properly, and your internal temperature will begin to rise.

Safety

Drink plenty of water after exercising and before getting in the sauna to prevent dehydration. Give your body time to cool off from your workout before entering, and spend 15 minutes at most in the heat. Leave right away if you begin to feel dizzy or nauseated, and only use the sauna with other people present in case you become overheated and need assistance. If using a public sauna, wear shower shoes and bring a towel to prevent exposure to fungal infection. People who are pregnant, suffer from heart disease, hypertension or epilepsy or who are taking antibiotics, stimulants or tranquilizers should not use a sauna.

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