Overdid it during your workout? Maybe it’s time to head for the sauna. Photo by dalydose on Flickr
Science has finally proven what we’ve known for years: A sauna after you exercise is good for you. Research published this week shows that oxidative stress, a condition when the free-radicals in your body overwhelm your antioxidant defenses, can be resolved by spending time in a sauna after a workout. A single exercise session — especially for those who don’t have a regular exercise regimen — can cause acute oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress from exercise is a well-studied but little understood mechanism. Current research hasn’t figured out what all the effects of these compounds your body produces are. There are some suspicions: On the good side, short periods of oxidative stress may help slow the affects of aging. While on the bad side, longer periods of oxidative stress contribute to the development of diseases like:
- age-onset cancer,
- degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and Lou Gehrig’s disease,
- cardiovascular diseases leading to increased heart attacks and strokes,
- and many others
One of the key triggers for oxidative stress is acute exercise of any kind. Walking, running, cycling, strength training, isometrics, or any activity that causes your cells to work overtime can result in oxidative stress.
For athletes, acute exercise means long training sessions, endurance races, or even a typical professional sporting match. If you’re one of these, the blog IMPRÜVISM has a lot more information about oxidative stress and extreme exercise than we’ll ever be qualified to give.
For us non-athletes, that first trip to the gym in a month (or longer…) can constitute acute exercise, as can running to catch that bus or even hoisting yourself out of your recliner.
Basically, if you’re outside your exercise comfort zone, you’re in a state of oxidative stress. Your sore muscles and other feelings you get telling you that you’ve overdone things attest to that.
Which brings us back to the sauna.
A team of researchers in Poland had a group of otherwise healthy young men exercise on a stationary bicycle for 30 minutes in two different sessions. In one session, the men recovered for 40 minutes after their exercise at room temperature. In the other, they spent those 40 minutes in a 90°C (194°F) sauna. Their blood was drawn at the beginning of each session and after their recovery period to compare the amount of markers of oxidative stress created during that one session.
The results found that recovering in the sauna reduced the markers for oxidative stress in the men’s blood significantly versus recovering at room temperature.
The full study, “The effect of a single Finnish sauna bath after aerobic exercise on the oxidative status in healthy men.” is available on the website of the Scandinavian Journal of Clinical & Laboratory Investigation.
So, whether you’re training for another marathon or just making that New Year’s resolution to get fit, if you feel you’ve overdone it, spending some time in your gym’s sauna can help make that cruddy feeling go away.