Written by Minh Mai
Recent research suggests that visiting the sauna has many more health benefits than previously thought. 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 as well.
This 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 by about 6%. The sauna sessions also improved blood vessels’ ability to expand and contract with the changing pressure. Heart rates were found to have gradually increased to an average of 120 beats per minute during the sessions. This is roughly what would be expected from a moderate-intensity exercise. However, it’s important to note that this rise in heart rate cannot definitively be equated with doing aerobic exercise to raise the heart rate- benefits are widely different.
Moreover, sitting in a sauna also increases body temperature marginally by up to 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit. This can cause blood vessels to widen and help blood flow easier. Likewise, it also triggers sweating, which removes fluid from the body. Although this can in some cases dehydrate the body, it can also aid in removing bodily toxins. Many people also report that visiting saunas help them relieve mental and physical stress, which in themselves are contributors to high blood pressure and cardiovascular conditions.
Please note these findings may not apply to other types of steam rooms or saunas kept at different temperatures or to people of different ages or health statuses, as they are different than the ones used in the study. The study author, Dr. Jari Laukkanen also cautions that people with low resting blood pressure or symptomatic heart disease should talk to their doctor before entering a sauna.
Based on this study, it seems as is the health benefits of going to the sauna are strong for those without any underlying conditions. Laukkanen says “At the moment, we can say that sauna use is recommended, and it seems that more is beneficial,”. In his team’s previous research, people who visited saunas four to seven times a week saw the biggest benefits. So whether you are a sauna goer or not, it seems that going often and consistently will improve both your mood and your cardiovascular health.