Updated: Oct 31
The sauna has been a tradition for hundreds of years in many cultures. Now, modern medicine confirms the benefits that many generations have always known.
The following article is an expanded transcript of the very informative video published by the Practical Health channel, titled: Sauna: 9 Elements of a Great Sauna Routine or How-to-Start Guide
We recommend this video for the concise yet thorough discussion of how to maximize the benefits of your sauna routine. However, this video is PACKED with important facts – so much data that you can’t absorb it in real time. In addition, Andrey is a sincere sauna advocate, but some viewers may miss important points due to his accent.
This is the second video that discusses the health benefits of sauna usage. If you have not watched the previous video in this series, it would be helpful to view this first and read the transcript. Please Click HERE for this initial article and video.
In the previous video, we discussed the health benefits of saunas and steam rooms. Since then, I’ve had questions from some of my friends about how to start and how to benefit the most from the sauna experience. In this video, we’ll talk about the sauna routine and my personal experience. You might pick something from my list to build or enhance your sauna routine.
Hi, Andrey here, welcome to the Practical Health channel! A quick refresher, the key benefits of saunas and steam rooms are that they:
1. Provide a great workout for the heart and blood vessels,
2. Help with drainage of the lymphatic system,
3. Give the kidneys a rest and help remove heavy metals from the body.
4. They rejuvenate skin,
5. Aid in muscle recovery and growth,
6. Release endorphins and elevate mood,
7. And reduce inflammation in the body.
Great benefits, right? Let's talk about what makes a sauna routine great.
First, there’s preparation.
It's quite simple but important. Avoid eating 2 to 3 hours before your sauna visit. Remember from the previous video, research shows that about 60% of the body’s blood flow is redistributed from the core to the skin to facilitate sweating. So, during your sauna visit, the digestive system is basically on pause. And it’s better to keep the stomach empty during this pause time.
Another recommendation is to hydrate yourself - drink lots and lots of water before your sauna visit, ideally mineral water.
Next, what should you wear?
You want as little clothing as possible, so your skin is exposed to heat and cold and able to quickly react to changes. I usually wear my running shorts, which is quite typical in my gym. And women typically wear swimsuits.
How much time should you spend inside?
About 5-10 minutes for the first time, then take a cold shower, then enter the sauna room again for 5-8 minutes, then leave and take a cold shower, and so on. During your first visit, don’t be surprised if you only last one or two minutes.
You’ll eventually get used to longer stays. As for when to leave and cool down, I usually follow my heart and do what’s comfortable. If I use the sauna after a cardio workout - running, cycling, soccer, or step master - my entire session usually lasts for about 20 minutes. But during dedicated visits to my gym’s steam room, it’s about 40 minutes. Longer sessions like this usually happen either when I have no energy for a cardio workout, or when I’m recovering from injury.
By the way, research shows that cardio workouts and sauna visits combined offer even stronger health benefits than just using a sauna alone. If you have the opportunity, consider visiting a sauna after your cardio workouts.
Next, what’s the recommended body position when using a sauna?
Ideally, lying horizontally on a bench. This keeps body temperature more or less uniform across the body. That being said, most people usually sit, both for practical purposes and to avoid getting strange looks from others.
Now, what should you do inside?
That’s personal preference. I usually meditate or practice breathing. If the situation permits, sometimes I stretch and exercise my eyes. One critical note - drink a lot of water during your cool down breaks, ideally warm mineral water. You lose a lot of water and minerals in the steam room, so you want to rehydrate and replenish minerals.
What should you do after the sauna?
Drink a lot of water, take a rest, and try not to eat food for at least an hour. Your body diverted a lot of blood from your internal organs to the skin to facilitate sweating. So, give it some time to bring blood back to the internal organs.
You might also start hearing quiet “thank yous” from somewhere in the back of your head, which is your body and your brain expressing their gratitude. Just kidding…
How often can you go to the sauna?
In general, as often as practically possible. Though we do have two major limitations. First, sauna visits usually compete for your time with other fitness activities - cardio workouts, strength training, stretching, or yoga. You’ll usually do one workout a day at most, and you need to choose which one.
The other limitation is the body’s ability to recover. It can take up to 24 hours to fully recover after a good sauna session. From my personal experience, one week I went to the steam room 7 days in a row, and I was perfectly fine. I usually see that frequent sauna visits leave people with dry skin and some mineral deficiencies. But both of them are manageable.
A couple more points to make your sauna trip as enjoyable and beneficial as possible.
If you’ve never been, try to work your way into it instead of going hard right away. Think of it like getting used to running or any other type of workout. Just do it gradually - over time, train your body to tolerate more intense sessions, longer sessions in the sauna, and the broader hot-cold range. And listen to your body - your feelings and heart rate will tell you a lot about your physical state in the sauna.
Finally, if possible, bring your friend and/or partner to the steam room or sauna with you. This adds a social element to the sauna experience, which is awesome. Again, it takes some time to get used to but then it becomes like a drug since the sauna releases endorphins, elevates the mood, and brings so many health benefits to the body.
And, as a reminder, using the sauna or steam room is not a good idea for people with kidney problems, acute infections, heart disease, or dizziness. If you have any concerns, please talk to your doctor.
Now, one final point about my personal experience.
Besides visiting the steam room at our local Equinox gym, sometimes I go to the Russian banya in San Francisco, it’s called Archimedes. It differs from my trips to the steam room at Equinox in several ways. First, sauna room (that is, the traditional Russian banya) visits are longer, which means longer cooling down periods. The load on the heart is heavier and more intense. (The banya is known for intense steaming, along with intense whisking of the skin!) It has a strong social aspect since I go there with my friends. Also, these sauna sessions (banya) last up to two hours overall. And finally, the recovery time is much longer. Based on my heart rate and HRV, I need the entire next day to recover. For this reason, you might want to experiment with standalone sauna and banya trips to see what works for you. Or start with whatever is available at your local gym and then experiment with a dedicated banya and sauna.
Ok, that's it for today! I hope these ideas will help you establish a great routine and make the sauna a part of your weekly wellness schedule.
The Great Out There is pleased to provide this information summarizing the many benefits of saunas. We have enjoyed saunas for years, including many sub-zero nights in the far North. We have found nothing erases the soreness and stiffness of a hard day’s work – or the exertion of sled dog racing – like a hot sauna, followed by a cold plunge or shower or roll in the snow! Stay tuned for more insights into the benefits of the sauna.