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Top 7 Health Benefits Of Saunas For Immunity, Heart Health & More

Rachael Ajmera, MS, RD
Author: Medical reviewer:
October 29, 2023
Rachael Ajmera, MS, RD
Registered dietitian
By Rachael Ajmera, MS, RD
Registered dietitian
Rachael Ajmera, MS, RD is a registered dietitian and writer based in San Francisco. She holds a master's degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University and an undergraduate degree in Dietetics.
Seema Bonney, MD
Medical review by
Seema Bonney, MD
Emergency medicine physician
Dr. Seema Bonney is board certified in emergency medicine as well as anti-aging and regenerative medicine, and has been actively practicing medicine for over 21 years.
October 29, 2023
We carefully vet all products and services featured on mindbodygreen using our commerce guidelines. Our selections are never influenced by the commissions earned from our links.

Sauna bathing has long been a staple in Finnish culture. Within the past few years, saunas have become a hot (pun intended) trend in other parts of the world too, thanks to their many well-being benefits. Intentional heat exposure seems to have a profound impact on cardiovascular and metabolic health—but what, exactly, is it about heat that's so good for us? And how can we best use it to our advantage without going too far?

Let's soak in the science of how sauna benefits our mood, heart health, longevity, and more, and share some protocols for making the most out of your next sweat session.

The need-to-knows:

  • The science of saunas is very strong: Research shows that the deliberate heat exposure of saunas can support mood and mental health, boost cardiovascular health and immunity, and help you live longer—though most studies have been conducted on Scandinavian populations.
  • The time and temperature are important: Research suggests that using a sauna that's 80-100 degrees Celsius 2-3 times a week for 15-20 minutes at a time is ideal.
  • Safety first: Be sure to hydrate before and after using a sauna to avoid potentially serious issues like heat stroke. If you start to feel dizzy or lightheaded in a sauna, get out immediately.

Benefits of saunas

Saunas offer a long list of benefits that extend far beyond helping you relax. Here are a few of the top health perks that are backed by science.


They speed up metabolism

While the jury’s still out on whether or not regular sauna use can lead to long-lasting weight loss on its own, it definitely can ramp up your metabolism to help you burn more calories. It’s believed to work by increasing your body temperature1, leading to increased cardiac output and a higher heart rate. This causes your body to work harder, resulting in a quicker metabolism.

In one 2019 study, researchers evaluated the effects of repeated dry sauna use in overweight, sedentary young men. The study involved four 10-minute sauna sessions with a 5-minute cool-down break in between. In the first 10-minute session, participants burned around 73 calories on average. However, by the final session, their calorie expenditure had almost doubled2, and they were burning around 134 calories on average.


They support cardiovascular health in a big way

Setor Kunutsor, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Leicester who has conducted extensive research on saunas, tells mindbodygreen that sauna use may be associated with several heart-healthy benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease and hypertension (aka high blood pressure).

He explains that heat exposure works by easing inflammation3, reducing oxidative stress, and decreasing lipid and blood pressure levels. It might also help reduce stiffness in the arteries4 and improve the function of the cells that line the blood vessels.

Interestingly, one study published by Kunutsor and colleagues found that more frequent sauna use (4-7 times a week) was linked to a lower risk of fatal cardiovascular events (such as heart attack or stroke) in men and women.

Another study showed that regular sauna bathing could boost the benefits of exercise5 by enhancing its effects on cholesterol levels, systolic blood pressure, and cardiorespiratory fitness.


Regular sauna may lengthen lifespan

Hitting the sauna regularly might help you live longer by reducing your risk of fatal cardiovascular events and stroke, according to longevity specialist Darshan Shah, M.D.

In fact, research shows that repeated sauna use helps optimize your body’s response to heat exposure6, thanks to a biological process known as hormesis. Hormesis is a short-term stressor that triggers an assortment of protective mechanisms to promote cell repair and protect against other stressors, which may lead to a longer lifespan.

According to one review, frequent sauna bathing may also support longevity7 by enhancing the effects of other beneficial lifestyle factors (such as physical activity) or offsetting the adverse effects of risk factors like high blood pressure or inflammation.

One study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association followed over 2,300 middle-aged Finnish men over an average of 20 years. Researchers found that increased frequency of sauna use was tied to a lower risk of premature death8, plus a decreased risk of sudden cardiac death, fatal coronary heart disease, and fatal cardiovascular disease.

Another study on 1688 adults found that those who used a sauna 2-3 times a week were 27% less likely to die of a cardiovascular event9 than those who went once a week. And those who went 4-7 times were over 50% less likely to die from a cardiovascular event.


They promote performance and recovery

Lots of people hop in the sauna right after hitting the gym, and for good reason. Heat exposure can help reduce cell damage10 and increase the expression of heat shock proteins, which boost protein synthesis and stimulate muscle growth.

Saunas can also improve circulation by increasing production of nitric oxide11 (a compound that dilates the blood vessels) to help accelerate post-workout recovery.

A recent 2023 study concluded that an infrared sauna session (more on this type of sauna below) could reduce muscle soreness12 and improve perceived recovery after resistance training. It might also increase blood volume, leading to enhanced endurance while you work out.

In fact, one small study on male distance runners found that post-exercise sauna bathing increased run time to exhaustion13 by a whopping 32% after just three weeks.


They enhance immune function

If you frequently find yourself feeling under the weather, making the sauna a regular part of your routine might help.

According to Kunutsor, not only can sauna sessions alleviate inflammation and increase immune function, but they may also protect against a slew of issues like asthma, pneumonia, and the common cold.

One study in young men reported that sauna bathing could improve the body’s immune response14 by altering levels of immune cells, but only when used as a series of treatments rather than a single, one-off session. Another study conducted by Kunutsor showed that frequent sauna use was linked to decreased markers of inflammation15, which is believed to be one of the key reasons for its immune-boosting benefits.


They may benefit brain health

In addition to promoting the health of your body, promising research suggests that sauna bathing might even help keep your brain healthy too. Kunutsor tells mindbodygreen that it works by supporting neurogenesis6, or the formation of new neurons in the brain.

He notes that heat exposure can also increase the expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor,16 a type of protein needed to maintain memory and learning. 

A 2017 study in Age and Ageing showed that moderate to high frequency of sauna use was tied to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia17 in middle-aged men. Similarly, a study in almost 14,000 Finnish men and women found that those who used the sauna at least 9-12 times per month were less than half as likely to develop dementia18 over a 20-year period than those who hit the sauna less than four times per month.


They support psychological well-being 

Taking time to relax in the sauna might also be beneficial for your mental well-being. Its positive psychological effects are thought to stem from a variety of factors1, including reduced stress levels and an increased release of endorphins, or feel-good hormones.

One study19 followed 2,138 men over an average of nearly 24 years and found that those who frequently used the sauna had a significantly lower risk of developing psychotic disorders like schizophrenia. Plus, other research suggests that saunas may even ease chronic pain20, improve sleep21, and enhance health-related quality of life22.


There's solid research to show that regular sauna bathing (around three times a week) can support mood and mental health, boost cardiovascular health and immunity, and even help you live longer. Though studies have turned up several promising potential benefits of saunas, most research is concentrated on men in Nordic countries like Finland, where sauna use is much more common. More research is needed to understand whether saunas offer the same set of benefits for other groups as well.

Types of saunas

The first saunas were believed to be invented in Finland, where saunas have been a staple for over 2,000 years. Originally, sauna houses were made of logs and were heated using rocks with a fire. Unlike modern saunas, they had only a small hole in the wall rather than a chimney, meaning that they were often filled with smoke and ash.

Needless to say, we've since modernized sauna squite a bit, and there are now several styles available for a wide range of people:

Traditional saunas

Most modern saunas use stones to provide heat to a small room or cabin, using either a wood-burning or electric stove.

Infrared saunas

These saunas use infrared energy to heat the body, without directly heating the air around you. Compared to traditional saunas, infrared saunas usually operate at a lower temperature. They have also not been as extensively studied.

Sauna blankets

For a more portable and budget-friendly sauna-like experience from the comfort of your own home, you can also try a sauna blanket. These blankets are similar to infrared saunas and emit infrared light to heat the body, though far less research has been done on them than on traditional saunas.

We tried it

"I'm a runner, currently in the peak weeks of training for my next marathon, and I've tried just about every recovery tool under the sun. I know which are worth the hype, and this is one of them."—mbg Commerce Editor Carleigh Ferrante on the HigherDose Infrared Sauna Blanket

Portable saunas

Portable saunas are also an option. These small enclosures are often equipped with a small chair so you can sit down during your session. These saunas use steam or infrared light for heat and tend to be a more affordable alternative to installing an entire sauna in your home.

Sauna suits

These waterproof tracksuits are designed to help retain heat while you work out, which can help increase sweating. They might help you burn a few more calories while exercising. One study in active men and women showed that wearing a sauna suit enhanced calorie expenditure23 both during and after exercise and bumped up fat burning for up to an hour.

However, researchers also noted that it’s unclear whether or not this could actually translate to weight loss, as the overall increase was pretty small.

Sauna vs. steam room benefits

There’s definitely some overlap between saunas and steam rooms, as both involve exposure to heat and can increase your body’s temperature. However, there’s a key difference in terms of the temperature and humidity of each; steam rooms don’t get as hot and have a much higher degree of humidity, whereas saunas use dry heat to stimulate sweating.

Because both can bring your body into hormesis to spur cellular repair, steam rooms and saunas likely share a pretty similar set of benefits. However, saunas have been much more extensively studied for their potential health perks.

A science-backed sauna protocol

Prolonged sauna use can lead to overheating, dehydration, and in extreme cases, heat stroke. It can also cause damage to the tissues, which may lead to burns24 on parts of the body that are exposed. This makes adopting a safe, effective sauna protocol super important.

To start, enter your sauna hydrated and try drinking at least 2-4 glasses of water after getting out. Adjust your intake (and potentially add in some electrolytes) based on how much you sweat. You should also limit your sauna session to around 15-20 minutes and avoid alcohol before heat exposure, which can increase the risk of serious side effects.

Kunutsor recommends sticking to a temperature between 80-100°C (176-212°F), which is the sweet spot to ensure you’re getting the most bang for your buck with each sauna session, according to research.

As far as how long you should aim for, he notes that it can vary a bit based on your personal preferences and comfort level, but “the overall evidence suggests that reaping the optimal benefits from sauna sessions requires a frequency of 3-7 sessions per week, with each session lasting approximately 15-20 minutes.”

However, if you start feeling dizzy, lightheaded, or like you have a racing heart, get out of the sauna. It's not worth toughing it out for those extra few minutes.


Using a sauna that is 80-100°C 3-7 times a week for 15-20 minutes at a time is a solid science-backed protocol. Hydrate before and after each session and get out of the sauna early if you experience any uncomfortable side effects.

Hot-cold therapy to maximise the benefits

Hot-cold therapy can ramp up the possible health benefits of your next sauna session.

Hot-cold therapy involves following up your sauna session with a plunge into cold water, which can drive up adrenaline levels and relieve pain25. Cold exposure can also decrease levels of specific hormones, including cortisol26 (the body’s stress hormone), while activating brown fat, a type of fat that helps regulate your body temperature and metabolism.

Some proponents even claim that hot-cold therapy can increase levels of human growth hormone to boost muscle growth, though more research is needed.

If you’re interested in trying hot-cold therapy (also sometimes called contrast therapy), start by hitting the sauna for 15-20 minutes and following it up with a quick dip in an ice bath or cold plunge tub for 3-5 minutes. If you prefer, you can also start with a cold plunge to try a cold-hot-cold routine instead.

The most important thing is to end with cold rather than hot to allow your body to warm itself up through the metabolically beneficial process of thermogenesis.


Following your sauna with a dip in a cold plunge tub or ice bath may offer additional benefits, particularly for your metabolic rate.

DIY sauna

There are plenty of ways to take advantage of the many possible sauna benefits without installing an entire sauna in your home. For instance, you can try making a DIY “steam sauna” in your bathroom by filling the tub halfway with hot water and closing the door, letting it steam up. While it may not be an exact match for an authentic sauna experience, you can also try taking a hot bath or shower to help raise your body temperature quickly.

Sauna tips 

Because saunas can come with some risks, proper usage is absolutely essential. Here are some simple tips to make the most of your sauna session and minimize negative side effects:

  • Avoid extreme heat: Hotter isn’t always better when it comes to saunas. Stick to temperatures around 80-100°C (176-212°F) and steer clear of anything hotter to prevent overheating.
  • Remove all jewelry: Shah emphasizes the importance of removing all your jewelry before entering the sauna. Because saunas can reach very high temperatures, jewelry can get hot and increase the risk of burns to the skin.
  • Stay hydrated: Dehydration is definitely a risk for frequent sauna users. Drink plenty of water before and after your sauna session to keep yourself hydrated and replenish lost electrolytes from sweating with a post-sauna snack or sports drink.
  • Limit your session: Most experts recommend hopping out of the sauna after about 15-20 minutes to make the most of your session. While some may prefer slightly longer sessions, it’s generally a good idea to limit yourself to around 30 minutes at a time.
  • Watch out for warning signs: If you start feeling dizzy, nauseous, or lightheaded, there’s no need to stick it out any longer. Listen to your body and stop whenever you start feeling uncomfortable.
  • Cool down: After you’re done with the sauna, you may want to opt for a gradual cool-down to help ease your body back into the swing of things. Rest for a bit and then try taking a cool shower to slowly lower your body temperature. Or, try taking a dip in a cold plunge to kick things up a notch.

Other perspectives on sauna

There’s no doubt that science backs up many of the purported benefits of saunas, like those listed above. However, some argue that evidence is lacking for a few of sauna's health claims, including its ability to detoxify the body or lead to long-lasting weight loss.

Furthermore, saunas may not be a good fit for everyone, including those with certain health conditions like heart disease or low blood pressure. Saunas can also cause a temporary reduction in sperm production1 and are not recommended for people who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.

There is also the concern that some people might think of sauna bathing as a replacement for cardiovascular exercise. While the responses produced by an ordinary sauna bath correspond to those produced by moderate physical activities (such as walking), Kunutsor explains that sitting in the sauna shouldn’t replace regular physical activity.

In fact, research consistently shows that sauna use can actually amplify the possible benefits of exercise7, meaning that incorporating both into your routine can help you get the most bang for your buck.

The mindbodygreen POV

The research on sauna's benefits for cardiovascular health, immunity, and brain function is very strong. While most studies on sauna use have not been very diverse (conducted on mostly Scandinavian populations), they've come to impressive conclusions. Some health experts now claim that if sauna were a pill, it would be a blockbuster drug—and we at mindbodygreen have to agree.

Taking an occasional sauna is a relaxing treat—but having a regular sauna routine will have a much greater impact on your health. Research suggests that using a sauna that's 80-100 degrees Celsius 2-3 times a week for 15-20 minutes at a time is ideal. To bump up the metabolic benefits, consider adding a cold plunge afterward.

Not everyone has access to saunas, of course, so we celebrate DIY methods and new products like blankets and portable saunas that are easier to set up at home. While they may not replicate all of the benefits of traditional saunas, they offer a solid dose of deliberate heat exposure.

While saunas mimic some elements of cardio activity (hence their heart health benefits), they can't replicate the other benefits of exercise like muscle and bone strengthening. Instead, think of sauna like the cherry on top of an already heart-healthy routine.

—Emma Loewe, mindbodygreen's Health & Sustainability Director

This doesn't apply to you if:

While sauna bathing is generally safe for most people in good health, Kunutsor notes that some might be better off skipping the sauna.

Specifically, saunas are not recommended for people who are ill or those who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant. It’s also a good idea to check in with a doctor if you have heart problems or orthostatic hypotension, as saunas can cause a drop in blood pressure levels.

“People with chronic diseases affecting heat or sweating control, such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes with neuropathy, and central nervous system tumors should avoid use without consultation with their doctor,” adds Shah.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long should you sit in a sauna?

As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to aim for around 15-20 minutes in the sauna to help maximize the potential benefits. Spending too much sauna can increase the risk of overheating and other negative side effects.

Does sauna burn fat?

Some research suggests that saunas can increase fat burning and boost your metabolism after exercise. However, further research is needed to understand whether or not this could actually lead to weight loss or fat loss in the long run.

Is it good to go to the sauna after a workout?

Hitting the sauna after an intense workout is a great way to speed up recovery, relieve muscle soreness, and stimulate circulation. Be sure to stay hydrated and replenish any lost electrolytes lost through the sweat

The takeaway

Sauna bathing can be a simple and relaxing way to upgrade your wellness routine. Science has also turned up some pretty impressive potential sauna benefits, ranging from improved heart health to faster recovery after you exercise. Ready to try it out but don't have access to a sauna near you? Here are the best at-home options for a range of budgets.

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