A sweltering sauna session and a vigorous run may both get your heart pumping, but only the exercise is proven to provide the health benefits of aerobic activity. That's why running or performing other cardio is a must-do for healthy gals, while the sauna -- blissful as it may feel -- is purely optional.
Running and Heart Rate
When you hit the track or the treadmill, your heart and breathing rates quicken as your body strives to rush oxygen to your hard-working muscles. Optimally, running should elevate your heart rate to between 70 and 85 percent of maximum. Your maximum heart rate equals the number 220 minus your age, so a 25-year-old has a target heart rate of 137 to 166 beats per minute while running. To check your heart rate, pause your run and place two fingers on the pulse point of your wrist or neck; count the beats for 15 seconds, then multiply the number times four to find your beats per minute.
Sauna and Heart Rate
The sauna won't get your blood flowing quite like a speedy sprint, but the pulse-raising effects may be similar to a slower jog in some cases. Your heart rate typically goes up 30 percent or more in the sauna, according to Harvard Medical School, and a healthy resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. If you're on the high end if this range, your heart rate could exceed 130 beats per minutes in the sauna; unlike running, however, the extra blood tends to rush to your skin, not your muscles.
Despite the elevated heart rate, soaking up heat in the sauna is not shown to have much benefit besides relaxation, according to Harvard Medical School. Running, on the other hand, burns serious calories for weight management, increases endurance, reduces heart-disease risk and improves immune function. Aerobic exercise is so important for your health that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention instructs all adults to get 75 to 150 minutes per week of vigorous cardio, like running, or 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate cardio, like brisk walking or freestyle dancing.
Running and sauna stints are typically both safe, but either can cause harm if you don't follow certain ground rules. Both make you sweat, so drink water before, during and after your runs and before and after using the sauna. Wear quality running shoes before hitting the pavement and start out with brisk walking if you're just beginning a new running routine. The sauna isn't safe if you're sick, drinking alcohol or taking meds that affect sweating. If you're new to exercise, see your doctor before running. If you have any medical conditions, visit the doc before either running or using the sauna.
- MayoClinic.com: Exercise Intensity: Why It Matters, How It's Measured
- Harvard Health Publications: Sauna Health Benefits : Are Saunas Healthy or Harmful?
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: Pulse
- MayoClinic.com: Aerobic Exercise: Top 10 Reasons to Get Physical
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity do Adults Need?
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.