How Often Should You Use A Sauna?

In recent years the list of sauna benefits has grown. It can help with relaxation, sports recovery, brain health, stress management, sleep, cardiovascular health, detoxification, blood clotting, stroke and more.  So, with all these benefits how often should you use a sauna?

The answer, as you might imagine, is that it’s different for everyone.  There isn’t a straightforward answer.  There are guidelines however to help you decide on YOUR best frequency.

Research

What sauna benefits are you looking for?  What are your goals? 

According to the 2019 paper titled A hot topic for health: Results of the Global Sauna Survey the number one reason people use a sauna is for relaxation/stress management.  Number two is for enjoyment/invigoration.  With these goals, the frequency of sauna use would be simply how often you have access to, or want to have a sauna. 

As well as what you can tolerate which we will get to.

An interesting study looking at stress management is titled Recovery from sauna bathing favorably modulates cardiac autonomic nervous system.  The background you need to understand is that heart rate variability (HRV) is used to assess stress in humans quite accurately. It is separated into high frequency (HF) and low frequency (LF).  They found that “the reduction in LF power was -38.3% from pre-sauna to the end of recovery with a parallel increase in HF power of 27.8%.  Put together and for ease of explanation this is a 66.1% reduction in stress from a single sauna session.

Stress reduction is a huge sauna benefit.

This brings up a good point about ease of access for our desired sauna benefits.  If you are planning to use a sauna regularly then you should consider getting a sauna into your home which we will also address shortly.  Cost might not be as much of an issue as you might think as there is now a great selection of portable near infrared saunas.

If you goal is to use the sauna for cardiovascular benefits you will want to use the sauna 4 to 7 times per week.  A 20 year longitudinal study titled Association between sauna bathing and fatal cardiovascular and all-cause mortality events found that “increased frequency of sauna bathing is associated with a reduced risk of sudden cardiac death, fatal coronary heart disease, fatal cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality”

If it’s brain health you are interested in the paper called Sauna bathing is inversely associated with dementia and Alzheimer's disease in middle-aged Finnish men again showed that using the sauna 4 to 7 times per week had the most benefit.  They concluded “In this population-based study of middle-aged Finnish men, we found a strong inverse association between frequency of sauna bathing and the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, which was independent of known risk factors.

It would appear, from the limited longitudinal studies that exist, that regular sauna use is best.  There doesn’t appear to be a “best” number but in the range from 3 to 5 times per week would appear to be accurate.

Tolerance

Your ability to tolerate a sauna will be a critical factor.  This can be broken up into several sub-sections. The best advice is start slow and build up.

Heat Tolerance

There are essentially three types of saunas.  Traditional Finnish (water on rocks) far infrared and near infrared saunas.  These all operate at different temperatures.  Finnish is hottest, followed by far infrared and then near infrared saunas .  All three will get the job done, but if you are not very heat tolerant knowing these differences can help with your selection of what type of sauna is best for you.

The good news is that for most people your heat tolerance will increase the more often you use the sauna.  Heat acclimation is an interesting sauna benefit that can help those who don’t tolerate heat very well or for athletes that want to better perform in the heat.

Level of Health

Have you ever noticed that some people tolerate exercise very well and others don’t?  This will often have to do with levels of inflammation in the body and the load of free radicals.  Exercise is stressful and the idea is you need to stress the body and then when it repairs it will come back stronger.  The sauna is the same in that it will stress you.  It’s technically called hormesis.  If you don’t handle exercise stress well you likely won’t tolerate sauna stress well.  Of course, you can start with very short sessions but we need to understand some very unwell people might not be able to tolerate the heat of the sauna.

Health Conditions

Saunas have been under the microscope in the past with respect to the risk of sudden death.  Especially cardiovascular based.  The reality is that this quite baseless and a very low risk.  The article Sauna bathing: a warm heart proves beneficial reviews this.  One of the findings is that “the main conclusion was that death in the sauna is a rare event, even in Finland where the frequency of sauna bathing is high”

Some conditions that should avoid regular sauna use include pregnancy, young children, severe aortic stenosis, unstable angina pectoris, recent myocardial infarction, decompensated heart failure and cardiac arrhythmia.   Diabetics should monitor for ketones as there is an increased risk of this. 

Start Slow

Introducing any new health regime should be done incrementally.  You don’t just jump into the gym 7 days a week if you haven’t been exercising regularly.  To get your sauna benefits you also need to start slowly.  Start with shorter sessions and spread them out.  Pay attention to how you feel and recover.  If you are feeling good increase the session length and frequency but don’t be in a rush. 

Your sessions in the hotter finnish sauna will be shorter and your sessions in the far infrared and near infrared saunas will be longer.  Start with 5 to 10 minutes.  Increase from there. Give your body time to adjust, recover and acclimatise.

Other Factors

To enable you to get the maximum sauna benefits you need to recover properly.  Ensure your hydration is always adequate and drink 500ml of water before your session and after.  If you are doing saunas very regularly you will also need to ensure you electrolytes are not being depleted.  These are things like magnesium, sodium and potassium.  You may wish to use supplements to ensure your levels are ok.  Supplements include things like magnesium, kelp and hydrolyte.

If you would like to monitor these levels you can use a hair mineral analysis to do this.  For more on hair analysis you can check out Lifestyle Integration 

Home Use

A very important factor that goes in to how often you should/will use your sauna is if you have one in your home.  Sure, you can go to your gym if they have one, but you need to drive back and forth, maybe book a time and it might not be private. It’s not convenient.

Summary

The list of sauna benefits is significant.  How often you use your sauna depends on many individual factors.

The best advice is stay hydrated and start slow. See how you recover and progress slowly with duration and frequency.  The sauna benefits are worth it so don’t be in a rush.

To learn more about saunas, infrared saunas, sauna benefits, red light therapy, photobiomodulation and in particular portable near infrared saunas our website is www.nirsauna.com.au

Yours in Health,

Dr Todd Lizon (Chiropractor)
B.P.H.E., D.C.

 

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