SS 259 – Sauna/Spas Myth vs. Reality

Episode 259 Show Notes


Grant and Heavey talk about saunas and their benefits. This is not just coming from a relaxation or cultural perspective. There is actually real science behind its benefits in fitness.

Interested in getting some coaching on your fitness journey? Check out and chat with Heavey to see if you’re a good fit. Heavey also has a brand new show called From Coach to Business. Co-hosting this with Todd Nief, this podcast is for coaches out there who want to step out and do their own thing.

[03:55] Different Types of Sauna

Grant recalls going to a sauna back when he was in Dolomites, Italy. Every little cabin had its own sauna and the main lodge had a large sauna. He saw all different kinds of saunas, the regular one, the dry sauna, and the hay sauna. 

Grant read on the benefits of hay sauna, particularly, and found that it’s more of like a tradition rather than having any purported additional benefit.

Then there’s also the steam sauna that’s full-on  like being in a hot cloud. You can’t see anything across the room and it’s very, very hot! Heavey explains that steam saunas actually have a lower temperature than dry saunas but they’re much less comfortable.

All that being said, Heavey recommends considering one over the other because of certain factors. Regardless, saunas have persisted over the course of history. They do end up being beneficial, but we just haven’t really understood the how and the why until recently.

[10:33] The Infrared Sauna

A lot of research has been done in Finland because of how popular it is there. Aside from the dry, wet, and hay saunas, there’s another type of sauna called the infrared. 

The traditional dry sauna has a heat source that heats rocks. Then, you add a bit of water to it to add a bit of humidity to the room. The infrared sauna works with heat lamps through radiating special bulbs. (Think microwave ovens!)

The infrared saunas work at cooler temperatures relative to the dry saunas. This is because of the radiated component that penetrates the skin to heat you up. So the heat you’re receiving is more direct.

[12:35] Why You Feel Super Chill

Sweat is our body’s cooling mechanism. Normally, your body releases sweat to cool you down. In a sauna, your body can’t keep up. The body tries to dissipate heat through sweating but you can’t sweat fast enough. Ultimately, your core temperature rises beyond the normal body temperature which is 98 degrees Fahrenheit.

As a result, your heart rate increases and your blood pressure decreases. Physiologically, your body releases hormones in response to the heat such as growth hormones, endorphins, and norepinephrine. Hence, when you go inside a sauna, you get a relaxing feeling and you feel calmer. 

Being in the sauna also stimulates your immune system. It’s similar to exercise because you challenge the body and then you recover. It’s challenging in a good way because it can lead to positive adaptations. The same goes for saunas.

[15:35] Grant and Heavey’s Sauna Experiences

Before he got into the health and fitness space, Heavey had entered into saunas a number of times. He would feel relaxed and enjoyed them. This was his preconceived notion of what it was supposed to be. Not anything health-related. He simply thought it was where people go to relax after working out. 

Grant also shares his experience of saunas in Europe. Their saunas were mixed spaces for both men and women. Everyone was naked. This could be uncomfortable for people not used to this. Added to that is the silence around the room. So Grant and his wife ended up going to another sauna where they weren’t sharing space with other people.  

[18:28] The Health Benefits of Sauna

Over the past few years, there has been an uptick in the popularity of saunas. In a 2015 study on Finnish men, they found a lower risk of sudden cardiac death, coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease and all causes of mortality from sauna use. 

The sauna use is popular amongst the Finnish population. They compared guys that were visiting the sauna 7 days per week (and no baseline of 0). They found that people who did it more had the benefits mentioned above. 

Interestingly, the study showed positive cardiac outcomes from the sauna. Historically, if you had a heart condition, you weren’t supposed to go into a sauna. 

Another study found that visiting a sauna two days per week for three months had a similar blood pressure lowering effect as taking blood pressure-lowering medications. 

Grant is wondering whether the benefits of sauna come from the hot air or is it because of the time we’re able to spend on relaxing? That could be a part of it, as discussed in last week’s episode on recovery.

[22:34] Sauna + Exercise

As part of that study, they looked at exercise. Exercise is recommended for lowering blood pressure. They found that combining exercise with sauna use may actually be twice as effective too.

Alzheimer’s, depression, insulin sensitivity, certain respiratory conditions have also seen some promising results from sauna use. 

Endurance athletes have experienced measurable improvements from regular sauna use including greater time to exhaustion and quicker heart rate recovery.

In terms of recovery from strength training, the results are more equivocal at this point. So it’s hard to say it’s necessary beneficial for that. But given all these health outcomes, sauna use is worth it. But if you’re thinking that using the sauna will help you lift more, that may not be the case.

[25:00] The Downsides of Saunas

Sauna use may affect male fertility. There can be a decreasing sperm count after a couple weeks of regular sauna use. That’s why they also don’t advise men to refrain from using hot tubs. There are a lot of the same benefits that have been measured from hot tub use so there’s a lot of overlapping. If you only have access to a hot tub, then go for it. 

Hydration is also very critical during sauna use because you’re releasing a lot of sweat while you’re in there. An average person loses over a pound of sweat during the typical dry sauna session of about 15-20 minutes. Drink plenty of fluids before and after a sauna session along with electrolytes. Avoid alcohol consumption during sauna use as well.

[26:55] The Takeaways

Sauna use stimulates the body in a similar fashion as exercise. Obviously, there’s an overlap in benefits too. That said, you don’t have to push it in the sauna. It’s best not to exceed the recommended 20-30 minutes or past your personal comfort level. 

If you don’t have access to a sauna, a hot bath can give you similar benefits. The dry saunas or the infrared is a good way to go as well.

[27:45] Scotch Time: A Grangestone Highland Bottle

Grant and Heavey are now tasting a bottle from the Highlands. 

Grant’s family friend requested him to help make a piece of furniture. Once he gave it to them, they gave him a bottle of scotch as a thank you gift. 

Grant’s friend gifted him with a Grangestone 25-year Single Malt Highland Whiskey. It sounds super fancy. 

Here’s a quick tip: If you’re going to buy someone a bottle, it’s best to know what else they like and what else they drink. Or ask someone they know who knows about that they drink. More money doesn’t mean better. 

[30:50] The Verdict

Heavey finds the Grangestone unremarkable. It’s so smooth that it tastes like an Irish whiskey to him. The bottle is labeled Limited Edition, Sherry casked-finish. It’s not Sherry-heavy. The color is very light and there’s very little flavor. 

Grangestone is not a distillery but a private label for K&L Wines online. It was a high-margin item that looked nice with a beautiful wood box. It’s not bad. It’s just very simple. In fact, a lot of people might just love this because of how smooth and easy it is to drink.

But for a 25-year single malt and you’re spending big bucks, you would expect some complexity to it. You get lots of different flavors, something that changes as it sits in your mouth. There was none of that. 

The takeaway: A label tells you a lot but it can’t tell you everything. 

Single malts are not inherently better than blended, nor is aged always going to be better just because it has more years. Moreover, better is relative.


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