We want Healthworks to be the place you turn to to meet your fitness goals, but we also want it to be a place you can turn to to relax, whether that comes after a workout or a busy day, or simply because you’re looking to feel better with some self-care. Our spa-like amenities and wet areas are the perfect place to unwind, relax and feel better! You’ll find both saunas and steam rooms at all Healthworks clubs, and we even have whirlpools at Back Bay and Cambridge.
But let’s focus on saunas for right now. First, they’re different from a steam room. A sauna uses dry heat, which can be produced by hot rocks or a closed stove, while steam rooms are heated using boiling water. What does that mean for you? In a nutshell, both come with the benefits of heat stressing your body in a controlled environment, but a sauna session will stimulate sweating whereas a steam room will reduce that ability. Second, people have been using saunas for thousands of years (thank you, Finland). So you could say we already know it feels good, but research from the last 50 years makes it clear just how good the stress of heat can be for both physical and mental well-being.
Here are our 5 reasons why our saunas are so good for you:
1. Good for your muscles
Which means it could help you reach your fitness goals faster. It’s well documented that sauna use can increase growth hormone release. We’re strictly talking about the natural kind here, obviously. Human growth hormone, or HGH, plays a big part in body repair, recovery, and fat loss. A study that goes back to the mid-70s found HGH increased by more than 140% after a session in a sauna, which could help reduce muscle breakdown and increase muscle building following a workout.
Research also shows sauna use increases the release of heat shock proteins or HSPs, which play an important role in many cellular processes, including the repair of damaged proteins. Dysfunctional and damaged proteins are common features in age-related and neurodegenerative diseases, but researchers believe increased levels of HSPs can help prevent some of these disorders by repairing the proteins that cause them. Studies have also shown that when your body is repeatedly exposed to heat stress the increased levels of HSPs are sustained over time, which suggests your body retains those cell protections we mentioned earlier.
2. Good for your heart
And that’s great for women since, sadly, 1-in-3 women in the U.S. dies of cardiovascular disease each year. While it’s not a replacement for sweating it out in the gym, a 2019 study found sitting in a sauna can raise your heart rate to the equivalent of a moderate-intensity workout. So while you’re lounging in a sauna, your ticker is building endurance. Researchers found the way blood pressure rises and then falls after a sauna session is similar to how it rises with exercise and falls when you’re done working out. This could eventually lower your resting heart rate as your cardiovascular system gets used to functioning more efficiently.
Another study from 2015 found the benefits of regular and frequent sauna use, like lowering overall blood pressure and improving circulation, can reduce the risk of fatal heart events. Finnish researchers tracked 2,300 people for 20 years. They found those who used a sauna four to seven times a week were 50% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease than those who used a sauna once a week. Frequent sauna users were also more than 60% less likely to experience sudden cardiac death.
3. Good for your skin
The skin is your largest organ and its outer layer, the one that’s exposed to everything you encounter throughout the day, is vital to keeping you hydrated and protected from chemicals in the environment and microbial infections. A study from 2008 found that regular sauna use not only improved the skin’s barrier function, it also increased hydration and led to faster recovery from elevated water loss and skin pH.
On top of keeping skin in good working order, a sweat session also comes with aesthetic benefits. As you sweat, you shed dead, damaged skin cells allowing new, healthy cells to the surface and your pores open up giving all the dirt, oil, and bacteria that’s been collecting on your epidermis a way out. Just don’t forget to thoroughly wash your face afterward.
4. Good for immunity
Especially if you work out regularly. That’s according to a 2013 study that examined the impact of sauna on the immune systems of trained runners and non-athletes. Researchers found a single, 15-minute sauna session significantly increased white blood cell count, a sign of a stimulated immune system, in all the runners. They believe that similar to exercise, the stress of the heat on your body is what triggers the immune defense and recommend sauna sessions for fitness buffs to boost protection from illness.
5. Good for the brain
That’s according to two observational studies, which suggest a link between sauna use and reduced risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. A 2017 study followed 2,300 men for 21 years and a 2020 study followed nearly 14,000 men and women for up to 39. In both instances, researchers found that people who used a sauna several times a week had at least a 20% lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. While more research needs to be done, some of the risk factors for both diseases include high blood pressure, vascular problems, and inflammation, all of which have been shown to decrease through the use of sauna.
Looking to further your relaxation and treat your muscles? We also offer massage therapy at all Healthworks clubs, and you don’t have to be a member to book an appointment. Learn more here