My fancy-pants* gym just wowed me a little more, thanks to the single-sex sauna located in the locker room (right next to the single-sex steam room and single-sex hot-tub). Until last week, I hadn’t been in a sauna since I was a pint sized, not too gangly kidlet. Almost certainly, I only went in at that age because my father dragged me in with him in the way that parents have to do when they’re watching their children. I remember it being hot.
Saunas are not particularly en vogue these days, at least in Orange County. The citizens of Irvine and the outlying cities are not busily discussing their latest sauna-stint in the grocery store, nor are they busy building little saunas into every empty plaza suite. Yet saunas are a world-wise, cross cultural heat-producing place, and I as I got out of the pool one day, I started at the little room with a steamed up window and wondered the simple question, why?
Without any preconceived notions of what the sauna could, should and would do for me post work-out, I slipped in that day curiosity had gotten the best of me. The room is made entirely of wood (sans the floor, which was gym-y tile, of course), and rests between the temperatures of 160-180. I’m a little shocked people can exist in that kind of heat, but I’m here to tell the tale. I spread out a towel and sat down, watching the walls and wondering if I was going to experience anything peculiar, like hallucinations or feeling faint at such temperatures. No dice. Just me, heat, and silence. The only irregularity I did notice was that when you move in a sauna, you feel the heat. It pricks your skin in a not entirely unpleasant way. But if you sit still, you don’t really feel much different – just warmly snug as a bug in a rug.
Mainstream known benefits of the sauna seem to be fully focused on having clear pores, clearing the body of toxins, and relaxation. Many sauna-proponents also tout that your immunity will rise because bacteria and viruses cannot survive at high temperatures (which made me think we should just send sick people to Venus. It’s hot there, right?). But what I wanted to know was what were the actual health benefits to hitting up the sauna. Would it help my running? My swimming? My overall health?
According to an article published in 2007, Effect of Post-Exercise Sauna Bathing on the Endurance Performance of Competitive Male Runners, the conclusion was drawn that, “3 weeks of post-exercise sauna bathing produced a worthwhile enhancement of endurance running performance, probably by increasing blood volume.” Look, I love science. But probably? Seriously? I’m an English person – I pick up on indecisive language if only because it’s my job.
There do seem to be a lot of cautions for sauna use, including straining your heart, extreme loss of sweat, and unpredictable blood pressure. That all sounds really fun! Except not, so if you’re going to sauna, be careful and have a good sense of your heart’s capabilities.
So, saunaing for the purpose of being snuggly and warm work out great. As for what it will do for my health…we’ll see.
*I must admit that I still cannot believe I belong to a gym that anyone might describe as “nice.” I was a Gold’s Gym person, or a fitness-center at the apartment complex person. But now, I’m a “it’s possible I’d see an Olympian here” gym person. Can’t lie, it’s pretty spectacular. Kudos to the boyfriend! Nutty, chocolatey kudos!