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Article: The Cardiovascular Benefits of Sauna Bathing: Improving Heart Health and Reducing High Blood Pressure

The Cardiovascular Benefits of Sauna Bathing: Improving Heart Health and Reducing High Blood Pressure

The Cardiovascular Benefits of Sauna Bathing: Improving Heart Health and Reducing High Blood Pressure

Written by Chris Lang

From its very beginning, sauna bathing was primarily used for relaxation and pleasure. In Finland, the birthplace of the modern sauna, sauna bathing is deeply ingrained in the culture as a way for people to socialize, relieve stress, and promote mental well-being. However, the universal human desire for relaxation and enjoyment is just a part of the reason sauna-like practices can now be found in virtually every corner of the world. The other, arguably more important, are the many health benefits of a sauna.

Now, sauna bathing can positively affect several body systems, including musculoskeletal, nervous, and respiratory. But there’s one system that particularly benefits from this practice – the cardiovascular system.

This article strives to answer a simple question – does sauna lower blood pressure? The short answer is “yes,” but there’s much more to the sauna, blood pressure, and cardiovascular health story than this three-letter word. So, let’s dive deeper.

The Science Behind Sauna Bathing and Blood Pressure

When sauna bathing, you’re exposing your body to intense heat (up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit) for a short period. Naturally, your body temperature will rise in such conditions, typically reaching about 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

When this happens, your body will do anything in its power to cool down. That’s why you sweat profusely in a sauna – sweating is the body’s natural cooling mechanism. At the same time, your heart rate will increase (to up to 150 beats per minute), and your blood vessels will widen to help blood flow easier under these new conditions.

While each of these physiological mechanisms has some health implications, the last one—the widening of blood vessels—is particularly vital for connecting sauna and high blood pressure relief. With this in mind, let’s break down precisely how the sauna lowers blood pressure.

Blood Flow and Oxygen Levels

As your body heats up (and your pulse rate rises and blood vessels widen as a response), there’s another important chain reaction that takes place – your blood circulation improves. This is a direct consequence of two mechanisms: increased heart rate and widened vessels.

The first makes the heart pump blood at a much higher rate and deliver it to various parts of the body. The second makes this delivery hassle-free, as dilated blood vessels have a lower resistance to the blood, thus allowing it to circulate freely throughout the body.

It should also be noted that the blood now flowing freely is rich in oxygen. Since there’s more of this blood flowing at a faster rate, your body’s oxygen levels will also temporarily increase.

Interestingly, some of these responses (and mechanistic pathways involved in them) correspond to those produced by low to moderate-intensity physical activity.

Health Benefits of Sauna Bathing on Blood Pressure

Now that you know how your body reacts to sauna bathing, let’s focus on the effects of sauna on blood pressure.

As we’ve already mentioned, the most important body response from the sauna for high blood pressure is blood vessel dilation or, in medical terms, vasodilation. Vasodilation allows more blood to flow through your blood vessels. This has a near-instant effect to lower your blood pressure, as it reduces resistance to all the blood pumping through the vessels.

Lowering Hypertension

Now, it’s clear that there’s an instant effect of sauna on blood pressure. But does the sauna lower blood pressure in the long run? In other words, how effective is sauna for hypertension, a long-term medical condition where the blood pressure is constantly high?

Well, there are a few studies that suggest a link between sauna and hypertension, indicating that regular sauna use might have a positive impact on long-term blood pressure management.

A 2015 study monitored 2,315 middle-aged men (42- to 60-year-olds) from Finland for more than 20 years. At the end of the study, it was found that participants who used the sauna more frequently (four to seven times a week) had lower long-term blood pressure. These results are on par with a much older study quoted within the text, which found that regular sauna bathing increases left ventricular ejection fraction (medical term for improving oxygenated blood outflow from the heart) and decreases blood pressure, especially in individuals with hypertension.

Two more recent experimental studies, both from 2018 (Lee et al. and Laukkanen et al.), also reported reductions in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure after 30-minute sauna bathing sessions. More importantly, the systolic blood pressure (the higher number in pressure readings) remained lower than pre-sauna levels, even after recovery.

There’s also a 2017 study on sauna and blood pressure suggesting that men who go sauna bathing frequently (four to seven times a week) have a 50% less chance of developing hypertension. Though more research needs to be conducted, these initial findings seem promising. After all, they indicate that besides treating hypertension, sauna might help prevent it altogether.

But no matter how beneficial sauna bathing is for your cardiovascular health and blood pressure, it’s important to remember one thing – it can never fully replace exercising. Exercising regularly is the best way to strengthen your heart and maintain your overall cardiovascular health.

Think of the sauna as a complementary activity instead. A 2022 research has even shown that pairing exercising with sauna (a 15-minute post-workout session three times a week) results in more significant improvements in your blood pressure than exercising alone.

Heart Health and Longevity

Besides reducing high blood pressure, sauna use can do wonders for your overall cardiovascular health. The aforementioned 2015 research from Finland found that regular sauna bathing improves cardiovascular function, which, in turn, substantially lowers the risk of severe heart-related medical emergencies. This is a direct result of how sauna affects our body, including lowering blood pressure, inflammation, and oxidative stress and improving arterial compliance and the cardiorespiratory system.

Risks and Adverse Effects

Though there are many advantages of using a sauna for blood pressure management, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks and adverse effects. For starters, people with uncontrolled high blood pressure should never start using the sauna on their own accord. A consultation with a healthcare provider is a must in this situation to ensure that sauna bathing is safe and appropriate for their specific condition.

The same goes for people with a few other cardiovascular conditions.

Precautions for People with Existing Conditions

People with the following conditions should avoid sauna altogether until a medical professional gives them the green light:

  • Chronic heart failure (CHF)

  • Coronary artery disease

  • Unstable angina pectoris

  • Severe aortic stenosis and similar severe cardiovascular disease (CVD)

  • Recent cardiovascular events (e.g., heart attack, heart failure, and heart surgery)

  • Orthostatic hypotension

If you have any of these conditions, you might be able to go sauna bathing under specific circumstances; it all depends on your individual health status. However, there’s also a chance sauna bathing will be out of the question, so take your medical consultation seriously.

Types of Saunas and Their Effects on Blood Pressure

Once you decide to start sauna bathing, you’ll be met with a choice – which type of sauna to go to or purchase. Two types stand out the most: infrared and traditional saunas. The latter is most similar to the original Finnish saunas.

Infrared vs. Traditional Saunas

Infrared and traditional saunas primarily differ in their heating mechanism and the temperature they reach.

Infrared saunas use direct light sources (bearing in mind that infrared light is invisible to the human eye) to penetrate into the skin. As such, they don’t raise the temperature of the room too much, as their effect is more direct. Since this approach is relatively newer, some people might be apprehensive about it. But before you ask, “Is infrared light safe?” let us reassure you that it absolutely is. What’s more, the numerous benefits of infrared light therapy will probably have you rushing to one of these saunas.

As for the traditional saunas, they are heated by wood burning or an electrical device. For this reason, they are characterized by much higher environmental temperatures.

But is there a connection between lowering high blood pressure and sauna choice? The answer is yes. You see, traditional saunas offer more immediate cardiovascular benefits, lowering your blood pressure near-instantly. However, infrared saunas provide a more gradual effect that can aid long-term blood pressure management better.

Sauna Bathing as a Lifestyle Choice for Blood Pressure Management

Judging by numerous studies done on how sauna, blood pressure, and the cardiovascular system interact, you’d be prudent to include this practice in your daily life. Invest in a sauna, combine it with a healthy diet and regular exercising, and your blood pressure should give you less trouble. To get the best benefits, contact Komowa Wellness.

 

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