Can Regular Sauna Use Improve Cardiovascular Health?

April 4, 2024

Regular bathing in a sauna is more than just a way to relax. It poses several potential health benefits. One particular area of interest for researchers has been the potential impact of sauna use on cardiovascular health. In this article, we will delve into the findings of various scholarly studies to answer the question: Can regular sauna use improve cardiovascular health?

The Connection Between Sauna Bathing and Cardiovascular Health

When you step into a sauna, your body reacts to the heat in ways that are surprisingly similar to those that occur during physical exercise. Your heart rate increases, and your blood vessels dilate to cool your body. This increase in cardiac output is what prompted researchers to explore the relationship between sauna use and cardiovascular health.

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A study conducted by Laukkanen and colleagues, available on Pubmed and PMC, suggested that a higher frequency of sauna bathing was associated with a lower risk of sudden cardiac events, fatal coronary heart disease, and all-cause mortality [^1^]. This Finnish study is often used as a reference in the field due to its size (over 2000 men) and its long follow-up period (over 20 years).

Interestingly, the observed benefits were not limited to heart health. Regular sauna users in the study also had lower chances of developing pneumonia and Alzheimer’s disease – two conditions that are known to increase cardiovascular risk.

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[^1^]: Laukkanen, T., Khan, H., Zaccardi, F., & Laukkanen, J. A. (2015). Association Between Sauna Bathing and Fatal Cardiovascular and All-Cause Mortality Events. JAMA Internal Medicine, 175(4), 542. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8186.

The Mechanism at Play: Heat and the Body

The heat from a sauna induces a series of physiological responses in the body. These responses are similar to what happens during mild to moderate exercise. The heart rate may increase to 100-150 beats per minute, and blood flow to the skin rises, leading to increased sweat production. This is the body’s method of cooling itself down.

It’s also worth noting that the heat induces a relaxation response in the body, much like physical exercise. This can lead to reduced blood pressure and a lower resting heart rate, both of which are beneficial for cardiovascular health.

Additionally, regular exposure to heat may improve endothelial function – the ability of your blood vessels to dilate and constrict appropriately in response to changes in blood flow. This is crucial for maintaining healthy blood pressure and preventing atherosclerosis – a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Sauna Use and Blood Pressure

Another key aspect to consider is the impact of sauna use on blood pressure. Regular sauna sessions have been linked to lower blood pressure in several studies, one of which is available on Google Scholar.

In a study by Laukkanen et al., regular sauna users had a 46% lower risk of hypertension compared to infrequent sauna users [^2^]. This suggests that regular sauna use could be a useful tool in managing blood pressure and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

[^2^]: Laukkanen, T., Kunutsor, S., Kauhanen, J., & Laukkanen, J. A. (2017). Frequent Sauna Bathing Reduces Risk of Stroke. American Journal of Hypertension, 31(5), 587-594. doi:10.1093/ajh/hpx102.

Sauna Use: A Potential Adjunct to Exercise?

While the physiological responses to sauna bathing and exercise are similar, it’s important to clarify that sauna use should not replace physical activity but could be an excellent addition to an already active lifestyle.

A recent study available on CrossRef suggested that combining regular exercise with sauna bathing could have a synergistic effect on cardiovascular health. Specifically, the study found that sauna bathing immediately after endurance-based training sessions led to greater improvements in cardiac function compared to exercise alone [^3^].

[^3^]: Stanley, J., Halliday, A., D’Auria, S., Buchheit, M., & Leicht, A. S. (2015). Effect of sauna-based heat acclimation on plasma volume and heart rate variability. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 115(4), 785-794. doi:10.1007/s00421-014-3060-1.

The evidence suggests that regular sauna use is beneficial for cardiovascular health. However, like any health-related practice, it’s important to use the sauna safely. Always hydrate properly, avoid alcohol before and after sauna use, and listen to your body. If you feel dizzy or uncomfortable, it’s time to step out.

Sauna Bathing Frequency and Cardiovascular Mortality

Delving deeper into the impact of sauna bathing on cardiovascular health, it’s important to evaluate the role of frequency. How often do you need to use a sauna to reap these potential cardiovascular benefits?

A comprehensive study on the topic, retrievable on PubMed and PMC, provides some insightful answers. The investigation by Laukkanen et al. discovered a remarkable correlation between the frequency of sauna bathing and reductions in cardiovascular mortality [^4^]. Participants who bathed in a sauna four to seven times a week had a 50% lower risk of cardiovascular mortality compared to those who only used a sauna once a week. This suggests a dose-response relationship, where more frequent sauna bathing offers greater benefits for cardiovascular health.

[^4^]: Laukkanen, T., Khan, H., Zaccardi, F., & Laukkanen, J. A. (2015). Sauna bathing is inversely associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in middle-aged Finnish men. Age and Ageing, 46(2), 245–249. doi:10.1093/ageing/afw212.

Additionally, the duration of each sauna session also seemed to matter. Those who stayed in the sauna for longer periods (over 19 minutes each session) saw a substantial decrease in the risk of sudden cardiac death and fatal coronary heart disease, compared to those who spent less time (under 11 minutes per session).

Conclusion: Sauna Use and Cardiovascular Health

To conclude, research suggests that regular sauna use can indeed improve cardiovascular health. From enhancing endothelial function to lowering blood pressure and reducing cardiovascular mortality, the benefits are significant and multifaceted.

However, it is vital to remember that sauna use should be seen as a complement to, not a replacement for, regular physical activity. Proper hydration before and after sauna use is also crucial for safety and effectiveness.

Although further research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms at play, the existing studies, available on platforms like PubMed, CrossRef, and Google Scholar, provide promising evidence of the positive impact of sauna bathing on heart health. Appropriately used, a regular sauna can be a great addition to your cardiovascular health routine, potentially reducing risk factors and boosting your overall wellbeing.

Always consult with a healthcare professional before integrating new wellness practices, like sauna use, into your routine. This is particularly important for individuals with pre-existing heart conditions or other health concerns.