If you are tired of dealing with muscle soreness after a workout, you might want to consider trying heat therapy the next time you hit the gym or go for a run. Heat therapy could go a long way toward helping you feel fresh and comfortable — even after a long workout. It might even deliver some important health benefits you didn’t previously consider.
Hit the Sauna
Incorporating heat therapy into your fitness routine could be one of the best decisions you could ever make. Now, it might sound counterproductive to expose yourself to extreme heat after a workout. But sitting in a sauna or a steam room could help you in many ways. Sweating, for instance, helps rid your body of toxins.1
The key to getting the most out of your time in the steam room or the sauna is to not overdo it. Stay only until you start to feel slightly uncomfortable, and then get out. Once you get to the point where you feel you need to leave the sauna, cool down by gently immersing yourself in a pool. Or, you can take a cool shower.
If you have any sort of heart condition, however, it could be very risky for you do to so. Talk to your doctor to make sure that they agree heat therapy will be safe.
And always make sure you’re drinking plenty of water if you’re doing heat treatments — you’ll be sweating out a lot!
Research shows that heat therapy might stimulate the development of growth hormone levels as much as four times their normal levels.2 This is important because growth hormone is shown to help in the recovery of muscle, as well as bone. It can also help speed recovery from an injury.4
There is evidence that heat and exercise do a better job increasing growth hormone levels together than they do separately.5 If you’ve suffered an injury to your body, heat therapy can’t heal you… but it could help you to bounce back faster. Muscle atrophy can occur when you’re hurt because you can’t move the affected area6.
But research suggests that heat therapy could help reduce the rate that muscle atrophy occurs.
Heat therapy may also help inhibit the development of free radicals, which typically occurs when an injured muscle is immobilized.7 Muscle and tissue damage can occur if free radicals take electrons from your cells.8
Another study shows that heat can reduce the rate at which oxidation takes place … Experts often recommend heat therapy for people suffering from degenerative conditions, as well as those who experience chronic pain.9,10
Sitting in a sauna or a steam room might not only reduce pain. Doing so may also help you maintain healthy blood pressure. According to one study involving more than 1,600 men, the participants who used a sauna two to three times each week were 24 percent less likely to develop blood pressure-related problems than men who used a sauna once a week or less.11
Sauna or Steam Room – Which is Better?
There are pros to both a sauna and steam room. The average temperature of a sauna is between 176-212 degrees Fahrenheit. The average temperature of a steam room is usually between 104-158 degrees Fahrenheit.12 Saunas have lower humidity, so people can typically tolerate them for longer periods of time. A person will usually sweat more in a sauna because they can stay longer. According to research, people tend to lose about a half liter of water (about 16 ounces) more in a sauna than they do a steam room, so make sure to drink PLENTY of water.13
If you’re not used to sitting in a sauna or a steam room on a regular basis, there are a few things you’ll need to keep in mind, safety-wise. Among them:
Don’t touch any hot surfaces in either a steam room or sauna. If you do, you could suffer a severe burn. And if you’ve already got a burn, steer clear until you’re healed.
Also, don’t go into this type of environment if you’ve been drinking alcohol. You could potentially suffer a fatal amount of heat exposure if you pass out.
Both men and women face a risk of reproductive issues by using a steam room or sitting in a sauna. Men may see a reduction in sperm count due to the rising temperature of their testicles. This is usually a reversible effect, but not in every case.14 There is also a small chance that there could be complications for women in the early stage of pregnancy who use a sauna or steam room.15
The American Pregnancy Association recommends that pregnant women look for other means of relaxation, such as massage or breathing exercises.16 If you think you might be pregnant, have a talk with your obstetrician first.
You should never use heat therapy in order to lose weight. The reason is that most of what you do lose will only be water weight. Also, if you sweat too much, you’ll lose important minerals, including potassium, calcium, and magnesium. You need all of them in order for your heart to work as it should.17
The Bottom Line
As you can see, there are some significant benefits associated with heat therapy in conjunction with a workout routine. It might help reduce pain and muscle soreness, and it could also help your body in many other ways. But again, it will be very important that you talk to a physician first before adding heat therapy to help boost your fitness routine.