Why Saunas Are Ridiculously Good For You
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Why Saunas Are Ridiculously Good for You
A visit to the sauna is more than just relaxing; it seems to have real heart and cardiovascular benefits, as well. A group of researchers from the University of Eastern Finland—who previously found that people who regularly used saunas had lower rates of hypertension, cardiac death and dementia compared to infrequent users—now find in a new study that sauna bathing can have a direct effect on blood pressure, heart rate and vascular health.
The studies on the health benefits of saunas were observational between sauna use and health outcome. This mean they could only find associations, and not cause-and-effect relationships. This time, however, the Finnish researchers recruited 102 people. They monitored them immediately before and after a 30-minute sauna session to see what happened.
The new research, published in the Journal of Human Hypertension and the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, showed that time in a hot, dry sauna reduced people’s systolic blood pressure from 137 to 130 mmHg, and their diastolic pressure from 82 to 75 mmHg.
While the systolic pressure drop was only temporary, diastolic pressure remained lower 30 minutes after people came out of the sauna.
The sauna sessions also improved people’s vascular compliance: a measure of blood vessels’ ability to expand and contract with changing pressure. Their heart rates gradually increased during the sessions, as well, to an average of 120 beats per minute. This is about what would be expected during moderate-intensity exercise. (Normal resting heart rate is between 60 and 100.)
That doesn’t necessarily mean that sitting in a sauna is as healthy as working out, says study co-author Dr. Jari Laukkanen, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at the University of Eastern Finland.
Circulatory responses may be similar to exercise. This suggests that sauna bathing could help keep the heart healthy and pumping efficiently.
There are several ways by which sauna bathing might decrease blood pressure, at least temporarily, says Laukkanen. It increases body temperature by up to 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit. This causes blood vessels to widen and help blood flow easier. It also triggers sweating, which removes fluid from the body. Then there’s the reason most people visit saunas in the first place: It can help relieve physical and mental stress. Mental stress is another contributor to hypertension.
The people in the study, with an average age of 51, all had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease, but were otherwise healthy. The saunas were kept at 73 degrees Celsius (164 degrees Fahrenheit) and 10 to 20% humidity. This mimiced the saunas many Finnish people have in their homes.
Laukkanen says the findings may not apply to other types of heated rooms kept at different temperatures, or to people of different ages or health statuses.
He cautions people with low blood pressure or heart disease to talk to their doctor before entering one.
But for people without heart or vascular symptoms, he says, the argument for spending more time in the sauna is strong. “This study adds to our knowledge about the mechanisms explaining the possible protective effects of sauna. It helps rule out other lifestyle or environmental factors that may have influenced their previous findings.
“At the moment, we can say that sauna use is recommended, and it seems that more is beneficial,” Laukkanen says. (In his team’s previous research, people who visited saunas four to seven times a week saw the biggest benefits.)We must complete more studies before the practice can be touted for the prevention and treatment of disease, he adds, “but we are sure that it is not harmful.”