Relaxing in a hot sauna is a practice that has been observed in Finland for centuries. Recently, sauna bathing has experienced a resurgence of popularity in mainstream fitness circles due to a growing body of evidence that spending as little as 30 minutes in the hot box can do a world of good for your cardiovascular system.
Before we get into the benefits of using the sauna, let’s briefly explain what it is for those who may not yet have tried their hand at the newest form of bathing.
What is a Sauna?
Saunas are small rooms or buildings that are heated to temperatures between 150-195°F (65-90°C). To create heat and maintain the hot atmosphere, saunas typically use a rock-filled electric heater. Water can be poured onto these rocks to create steam and increase humidity in the sauna..
Saunas used in Finland typically use dry heat (no water poured onto the rocks), while Turkish-style saunas use a higher moisture environment. wet
The inside of a sauna typically contains wooden benches along with an unpainted wood interior and temperature controls.
Saunas and Cardiovascular Health
Research shows that sauna usage may improve the ability of your blood vessels to dilate, which promotes increased blood flow and a beneficial reduction in blood pressure.
In case you weren’t aware, rigid, inflexible blood vessels are one of the main signs of cardiovascular disease. Therefore, anything that increases nitric oxide production, encourages more pliable blood vessels, and promotes greater blood flow is typically viewed as beneficial for cardiovascular health.
You see, when you sit in a sauna, skin temperature rapidly increases and within minutes of entering you begin sweating. This is a protective measure by the body to keep the core temperature within a safe range. Additionally, blood flow increase, blood pressure drops, and heart rate increases to accommodate the rise in circulation.
While a rising heart rate might not sound good, it actually is. Saunas increase heart rate similar to aerobic exercise, which has been well documented to support cardiovascular health.
Furthermore, the increased skin blood flow in these heat stress situations can improve vascular function.
Studies also suggest that saunas may reduce oxidative stress in the body, which may provide yet another avenue by which sauna bathing can reduce heart disease and other inflammatory disorders.
Additional Benefits of Sauna Bathing
Relaxing in the sauna has been associated with improvements in a number of other disorders and ailments, including:
- Osteoarthritis (OA)
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
Saunas provide an opportunity to unplug from our hectic lives and enjoy a relaxing experience that helps lower stress and improves several markers of cardiovascular health.
Finally, make sure you properly hydrate before and after using the sauna due to the immense amount of fluids and electrolytes lot via sweating.
- Laukkanen, T., Kunutsor, S. K., Zaccardi, F., Lee, E., Willeit, P., Khan, H., & Laukkanen, J. A. (2018). Acute effects of sauna bathing on cardiovascular function. Journal of Human Hypertension, 32(2), 129–138. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41371-017-0008-z
- 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), 1111–1121. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2018.04.008
- Shui S, Wang X, Chiang JY, Zheng L. Far-infrared therapy for cardiovascular, autoimmune, and other chronic health problems: A systematic review. Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2015;240(10):1257–1265. doi:10.1177/1535370215573391