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The Effects of Sauna on Cardiovascular Health

Updated: Mar 30, 2023

Sauna bathing is an enjoyable recreational activity with a good safety profile that does not involve physical exertion. We LOVE it over here at PLUNJ. When beginning to incorporate sauna bathing into your life, it is wise to start cautiously, listen to your body, and increase frequency and intensity of the activity gradually.


Studies suggest that spending time in the sauna can improve cardiovascular function and benefit the cardiorespiratory system. It may also improve function of the endothelium (the tissue that lines important organs such as blood vessels, heart, and lymphatic vessels) and reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.


Sauna and Your Cardiovascular System



The body responds to a regular sauna bath the way it might to moderate or high-intensity physical exercise, like walking. Though people usually relax in the sauna and don’t work their skeletal muscles as during exercise, ​​heart rate may increase from baseline up to 120-150 beats per minute during a sauna session. Researchers believe the reason for this is heat stress increases body temperature and may cause muscle blood flow to increase.


Cardiac output is increased and some of the blood volume moves from the internal organs to the body’s peripheral parts – all without even moving the skeletal muscles! Blood pressure is reduced, sweating increases, and cardiac stroke volume (the volume of blood in milliliters pumped from the heart ventricles) remains constant.


A study by Kunutsor et al, followed 1,628 men and women for 15 years and found that going to the sauna 4-7 times per week versus 1 time per week was linked to an approximately 62% reduced risk of stroke (ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke).


In two studies with samples from the general Finnish male population, the combined effect of a high cardiovascular fitness level and regular sauna sessions, was found to be connected with a substantially reduced risk of future cardiovascular deaths, sudden cardiac death, and all cause mortality outcomes – compared to good cardiovascular fitness or regular sauna sessions alone.


Now…how to apply this newfound knowledge? Good cardiovascular fitness is important, and you can improve yours through intentional, regular exercise. Then, when you sauna regularly, you may significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

In conclusion: based on current evidence found in several studies, regular sauna sessions may have the potential to reduce negative cardiovascular health outcomes. Sauna bathing may also become a recommended procedure for people with cardiovascular risk factors.


Rest after Sauna


Sauna bathing can improve autonomic nervous system balance. Meaning, it can help bodies move more efficiently from fight or flight mode to rest and digest mode. One study tested a population of regular sauna bathers with cardiovascular risk factors. Resting heart rate was measured in all participants before a single 30-min sauna exposure. After significant increases in heart rate across the board, the recovery period induced decreases in heart rate below participants’ baselines. These results indicate a positive trend toward autonomic nervous system balance, promoting a healthier cardiovascular system.


If you’ve spent time in the sauna, you probably have experienced its relaxing effects. Additional studies could be conducted to determine the potential longer-term influences of sauna on the autonomic nervous system. So far, #saunatime seems to be a fantastic habit for relaxation.


Sources

Laukkanen, J. A., Laukkanen, T., & Kunutsor, S. K. (2018). Cardiovascular and Other Health Benefits of Sauna Bathing: A Review of the Evidence. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 93(8), 1111+. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A552403603/HRCA?u=utahvalley&sid=bookmark-HRCA&xid=76a5616e


Laukkanen, T., Kunutsor, S. K., Khan, H., Willeit, P., Zaccardi, F., & Laukkanen, J. A. (2018). Sauna bathing is associated with reduced cardiovascular mortality and improves risk prediction in men and women: a prospective cohort study. BMC Medicine, 16(1). https://doi-org.ezproxy.uvu.edu/10.1186/s12916-018-1198-0


Laukkanen, T., Lipponen, J., Kunutsor, S. K., Zaccardi, F., Araújo, C. G. S., Mäkikallio, T. H., Khan, H., Willeit, P., Lee, E., Poikonen, S., Tarvainen, M., & Laukkanen, J. A. (2019). Recovery from sauna bathing favorably modulates cardiac autonomic nervous system. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 45, 190–197. https://doi-org.ezproxy.uvu.edu/10.1016/j.ctim.2019.06.011

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