Hiking can put quite a strain on the body, especially after a long day out in nature when doing field research. While this is by no means meant to discourage hikers, research has shown that proper aftercare can alleviate exhaustion and lessen the burden hiking takes on the muscles and bones. One excellent remedy is going to the spa or going for a quick swim.
In fact, many Asian cultures linked the two activities hundreds of years ago. To this day in countries like japan hiking trails are accompanied by onsen, a type of Japanese bath house. In this article, we shall discuss the many health benefits of saunas after a long day of exploring nature.
Types of saunas
While saunas can boost the immunity of healthy individuals, they may have an opposing effect on weak bodies, worsening the person’s health. You should never go to saunas without permission from the doctor if you experience dizziness or have cardiovascular problems (especially dangerous are heart problems). There are primarily two types of saunas: steam saunas, which some call Turkish-style saunas, range between 110 to 120 degrees F, and dry saunas, or Finnish-style saunas, are typically kept at around 160 to 220 degrees F.
The differences in saunas are in the methods used to produce heat and can be categorized as such.
- In steam rooms, when water is poured on a hot bed of charcoal, it increases the humidity in the room and gives the room a characteristic steamy atmosphere. Typically it has medium temperature and high humidity.
- Wood burning – temperatures are high, but humidity is low.
- Infrared – light waves from specialized lamps are used to heat the body without increasing the overall temperature in the sauna, which results in a low room temperature of about 140 degrees F.
- Electrically heated sauna – an electric heater fixed to the floor or wall is used to heat the room, and has a similar effect as the wood burning saunas.
Despite the variety of saunas, they all primarily have the same effect of relaxing the mind and the body.
While some types of saunas have more advantages than other does, and vice versa, as long as it provides the heating component the overall health benefits do not vary drastically.
Benefits of Sweating
One of the main effects that the sauna has on your body is releasing sweat, and by that, I mean a lot of it. Research shows that being in a sauna can cause the person to swear as much as a pint of sweat during a short stint. This is great for your body, as sweat glands help our skin filter toxins, such as toxic metals, alcohol, and nicotine, out of the body, which in turn boosts our immune system.
Sweating also cools our body and maintains proper body temperature. Sweating has also shown to be a great relaxing agent post-workout. However, you should always be wary that you are hydrated at all times, as your body is losing a lot of liquid in the sauna.
Helps the Muscle Recovery Process
Anyone who has tried hiking knows how tiring it is, but not a lot of people know that putting strain on muscles causes microscopic tears in them. These tears cause inflammation and can result in muscle soreness, tightness, cramps, and sensitivity. Your body then heals these tears to make your muscles stronger.
Using a sauna enhances the muscle recovery process by increasing blood circulation and carrying oxygen-rich blood to the oxygen-depleted muscles. Heat also allows muscles to relax better, thus relieving muscle tension. Moreover, the heat stimulates the production of endorphins, which reduce pain and discomfort.
A study from Otago University found a surprising correlation that visiting saunas after exercise can improve the overall endurance levels of the body. While the link remains unexplained, scientists think that it may be caused by the increased pulse rate and thus the increased speed of which oxygen flows through the body associated with saunas.
Improved Cardiovascular fitness
The main reason many health professionals recommend saunas to runners, hikers, and other track and field enjoyers is that saunas are proven to improve one’s cardiovascular system.
As mentioned above in saunas a person’s heart rate increases up to 120-140 beats per minute during a session. Furthermore, it will fall below the average a few hours after leaving the sauna. These changes increase your cardiac output, and your heart muscles become stronger. In fact, going into the sauna in intervals will cause a similar effect to doing moderate cardio exercise.
Relives sore muscles
The increased temperature of the body can help relieve muscle pain caused after a long hike. The exact reason of this remains unknown, but scientists think it is caused by the increased blood flow when in the sauna.
Aside from many benefits for the body, studies have found that saunas can help your mental health as well. In fact, many Asian cultures used saunas to practice mediation.
Clinical research studies conducted over the past decade noted a significant improvement in subjects’ mental states following sauna use, including increased positivity, mental clarity, and relaxation. This effect is shown to be even more pronounced after physical exercise.
After all, a workout increases the levels of adrenaline, a stress hormone, in a person’s system, which means the soothing properties of saunas are more effective. In fact, this relaxing factor is the primary reason people visit saunas.
Safe Sauna Use
You don’t need to use the sauna long to experience its health benefits. In fact, it is not recommended to use the sauna for over 20 minutes after an exercise. Remember we need to heal and relax your worn-out body, not strain it any further. If you have never used a sauna before, it is better to divide the session into 3-5 minute intervals. Your body will tell you if you’re spending too long in the sauna post-workout. Look out for signs such as lightheadedness, dizziness, and headaches, as they might be signs of dehydration or overheating.
After the sauna, it is crucial to wear warm clothing, as your body gets more used to room temperature after frequent shifts from hot to cold environments. Another very important thing to account for is your health conditions. While saunas can boost the immunity of healthy individuals, they may have an opposing effect on weak bodies, worsening the person’s health.
You should never go to saunas without permission from the doctor if you experience dizziness or have cardiovascular problems (especially dangerous are heart problems).
Saunas can have surprisingly many health benefits, especially after a workout. However, it is always important to account for one’s health conditions before visiting the saunas regularly. That’s why, perhaps, if you can’t visit spas, you should consider getting a swimming pool, or a jacuzzi. Moreover, it may even prove more cost-effective to install your very own swimming pool.