There are countless sauna benefits for athletes well, and not just for post-workout muscle recovery. Rhonda Perciavalle-Patrick, Ph. D., explains that heightening your body temperature for short bursts, by spending some time in the sauna, may offer exaggerated improvements to an athlete’s performance. She calls this “hyperthermic conditioning,” which developing research suggests has many positive effects on your body, from boosted endurance to the growth of new brain cells. There are various studies that have been done, specifically of how saunas assist in muscle pain relief, functioning endurance and athletic performance enhancement, in athletes. Here are some of its findings:
How sauna use will support muscle pain and recovery after an injury in athletes
If you have had a muscle injury and you are experiencing pain, discomfort and immobilization, your muscles will begin to weaken over time. The use of a sauna benefits athletes with this type of muscle condition by using hyperthermic conditioning, as it slows muscle degeneration. An entire body heat treatment strengthens muscle regrowth and reduces the possibility of muscle atrophy.
Dr. Patrick explains; “During injury, you may be immobilized, but you don’t have to be very mobile to sit in the sauna a few times a week to boost your HSP (Heat Shock Protein) levels! This is a clear win in the injury and recovery department.”
The warm temperatures and periodic cooling off times in a sauna environment will aid in relaxing muscles, nerves and blood vessels. Sauna use benefits athletes, especially after a demanding workout as it relieves sore muscles. It can also help to alleviate arthritis, asthma, physical and mental fatigue, and in may aid in flushing out toxins from the body.
How can sauna use boost an athlete’s endurance level and overall longevity?
If you’re an athlete, the benefits of increased endurance are clear, as your level of endurance serves as an accurate measurement for many aspects of your overall health, including your heart.
Hyperthemic conditioning, or “acclimating yourself to heat independent of aerobic physical activity through sauna use,” also improves endurance because it encourages adjustments in your body that make it easier for you to perform when your body temperature is elevated.
As your body is exposed to realistic amounts of heat stress, it will gradually acclimate to the heat, stimulating a number of beneficial changes to present in your body. These modifications come with heightened blood flow and plasma volume to your muscles and heart (which strengthens endurance) alongside increased muscle mass. A research study showed that individuals who sat in a sauna for 30 mins, twice a week for three weeks right after exercising escalated the amount of time it took to jog until physical exhaustion by more than 30%.
More sauna benefits for athletes include:
- Improvement in overall cardiovascular health
- Higher sweat rate as a function of increased thermoregulatory control
- Increased blood flow to skeletal muscle and other connective tissues
- Increased efficiency of oxygen transport to muscles
Research has shown that a person or in this case an athlete can theoretically use a sauna to heighten their heat shock proteins and can increase muscle growth. According to Doctor Patrick, exposure to heat has been shown an increase of lifespan (by up to 15%) in flies and worms, a benefit that is attributed to HSPs. One particular gene (HSP70) has also been associated with increased longevity, which suggests overall anti-aging benefits.
How can sauna use improve overall performance in athletes?
After finishing a workout, or a long day at your desk, many choose to relax in the heat of a sauna. In addition to saunas being relaxing, there is emerging research that suggests that regular sauna use gives an athlete many health benefits, including improvement of muscular endurance and shortening recovery time after exercise. As noted previously, one of the many functional variations that occur when sitting in a sauna is the release of heat shock proteins. In an experiment involving rats, heat treatment produced a release of heat shock proteins, but surprisingly the rats were capable to regrow more muscle. In the early 90’s Finnish researchers discovered that using a sauna would improve the amount of human growth hormone (HGH) produced by the body. HGH plays an important role in the body’s growth and repair of tissue, including encouraging protein synthesis in the muscle itself. In summary, the regular use of saunas has immense beneficial effects on life expectancy, exercise performance and post exercise recovery.
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