Although both have health benefits, lounging in the sauna and taking part in a cardio workout produce very different results. Cardiovascular activities, such as an aerobics class, brisk walking or lap swimming, gets your heart pumping, builds endurance, raises your metabolic rate and leads to improved overall health. Spending some time in the sauna can also increase your heart rate, and the welcome warmth helps soothe and relax sore, tense muscles, but the sauna can't match the health benefits of cardio exercise.
Cardio for Health
Participating in a standard cardio exercise program for at least 150 to 300 minutes per week, could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by as much as 40 percent, according to the American Heart Association. Additional benefits from cardio exercise include weight loss, lower blood pressure, increased endurance and better blood cholesterol levels. When you regularly take part in aerobic exercise, your body's use of oxygen improves and you might have more lasting energy to complete your daily tasks.
Soaking up the Warmth
Reminiscent of Native American sweat lodges, saunas feature moist or dry air, heated to as warm as 185 degrees Fahrenheit. Within minutes of entering the sauna, your heart rate increases by 30 percent or more as your body directs blood flow to your skin's surface. The warmth can be relaxing and enjoyable, but Harvard Health Publications recommends that you not stay in a hot sauna longer than 20 minutes at a time. Skip the sauna completely if you're feeling under the weather, and if you experience discomfort during a sauna session, leave immediately.
You can temporarily sweat off water weight in a toasty sauna, but aerobic exercise burns fat calories. Harvard Medical School estimates that the average person loses about a pint of water, through perspiration, during a typical sauna session. Unless you're retaining water to begin with, sweating away a pound or two won't contribute to long-term weight loss. Cardio exercise on the other hand, contributes to weight loss by burning fat calories and building muscle, which in turn, can boost your metabolism.
Best of Both Worlds
Since cardio exercise and sitting in the sauna offer very different benefits, if you're in good health, there's no reason why you can't enjoy both activities. Schedule your sauna for after your cardio workout to keep your muscles warm and flexible after exertion. Drink plenty of fresh water during your workout and after your sauna to replace vital fluids lost during both activities. Since cardio workouts and sauna sessions both increase heart rate, talk to your doctor before adding either one to your regular health routine.