Many people in good health can enjoy the benefits of a sauna frequently, as long as they know how long they can safely stay in. Deciding how often and how long to use a sauna is a matter of what benefits you hope to receive from your sauna experience. Saunas can be a treat for the body, used to help improve health and relaxation. Before using a sauna, ask your physician if it's safe, especially if you have a history of respiratory or heart problems, high blood pressure, anaemia or kidney disease.
How They Work
Saunas serve the body by increasing the sweat response in an enclosed heat condition. Whereas on a hot day this would cool the body down, in the closed sauna environment you stay warm and continue sweating. This opens your pores and causes your blood to circulate more rapidly, causing a release of toxins through your pores and sweat.
In wet saunas, or traditional saunas, participants pour water over heated rocks, producing steam heat. The convection heat in the room is what causes people to sweat. Dry saunas, such as those found in health clubs and spas, use infrared emitters without any steam. The infrared heaters focus the emissions on heating the organic body within the sauna, not the air. This heats people from the inside out, raising the body's core temperature while still producing the same sweat reaction.
Traditional saunas powered by a wood-burning stove can heat in 35 to 60 minutes, or in less time with electric heaters. Dry infrared saunas heat to their maximum over the 20- to 30-minute session, but require an initial five or more minutes to start the emitters warming.
A sauna can be used one or more times each week, depending on your access. Home saunas, spas and health clubs all allow you to sauna four or five times per week in shorter sessions of up to 20 minutes. You may use the sauna to ease sore muscles at the end of the workday in a daily 20-minute session.
Some enthusiasts sauna after a gym workout. When your body functions are already elevated, meaning your temperature is high and your circulation is increased from working out, you should only sauna for a maximum of 10 minutes. Under these conditions, a longer sauna session runs the risk of overheating your body.
If using the sauna for relaxation, choose fewer, longer sessions of up to 30 minutes in one sitting. This may be done once or twice per week, or at a maximum of every other day.
In the Finnish style, relaxation saunas are longer if they include a heating-cooling cycle. Sauna for 15 minutes or until the heat seems unbearable, then step outside into cool air or jump in a pool for a few minutes. Go back into the sauna. Repeating this cycle four or five times can be refreshing, and your sauna experience can then last an hour or longer. However, limit this kind of sauna exposure to once per week or less frequently.
Effects of Saunas
The effects of a sauna range from relaxation to soothing aching muscles to detoxifying the body through the skin's sweating response. In addition, saunas can refresh and revitalise. The condition of your skin and your circulation may improve, and your overall health benefits from the regular cleansing process.
Overexposure or overuse of a sauna can be dangerous. Dehydration from sweating out water can be prevented by drinking several glasses before and after the sauna. The risk of overheating your body---similar to a sunstroke effect---can occur if you remain too long in a sauna. If you start to feel dizzy or lightheaded while in a sauna, end your session immediately. Cool off, rest and drink water before moving.