For centuries, sauna has been used for its therapeutic benefits. It is commonly used for stress relief, relaxation, and detoxification—either on its own or after a workout. But did you know that sauna also has the ability to promote heart health? If you read my previous post, you know that routine exposure to the heat of a dry sauna (e.g., the Swedish bastu) helps to activate and condition many systems in the body—including the cardiovascular system, the detoxification system, and more. This post will focus on the use of sauna for heart conditioning, citing a Finnish study linking frequent sauna use to longer lifespans and lower risk of heart disease.
Cardiovascular Benefits of Sauna
One of the major benefits of sauna is its ability to improve heart health and function. A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine followed a sample of about 2,300 middle-aged Finnish men over a 20-year timespan and found that “increased frequency of sauna bathing is associated with a reduced risk of SCD [sudden cardiac death], CHD [fatal coronary heart disease], CVD [fatal cardiovascular disease], and all-cause mortality.”1 The men who practiced sauna bathing 4–7 times a week had a notably reduced risk of fatal heart disease compared to those who bathed less often. While these findings are exciting, they are not surprising. Sauna has previously been shown to lower blood pressure and to be beneficial for people with risk factors like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.2,3 All of these findings support the notion that regular, repeated exposure to the sauna environment is good for the heart.
Regular sauna use is good for the heart. It helps to condition the cardiovascular system—including the heart and the blood vessels—through repeated exposure to heat over time.
For a detailed description of how sauna works to activate and condition the cardiovascular system, check out my previous post: The Therapeutic Benefits of Sauna.
Who Can Use Sauna for Heart Conditioning?
Most people can safely use sauna for heart conditioning, including healthy individuals, those with physical restrictions, and those with risk factors for heart disease. However, if you have unstable angina or have recently had a heart attack, sauna is not recommended by the study.3 Be sure to consult your physician! If you’re a healthy individual wanting to increase general cardiovascular function, sauna is a great supplement to exercise and other activities. If you cannot participate in strenuous, movement-based activities (because of impaired joint function or other compromise), sauna may be used as a primary method for maintaining the health of the heart and vessels.
What Are the Other Benefits of Sauna?
Repetitive sauna use is great for overall health because it helps to activate and condition many systems in the body, including the:
- Central and peripheral nervous system
- Cardiovascular system
- Hormonal system
- Blood sugar and mineral regulating systems
- Hydro-regulating system
- Detoxification system
The joints, skin, muscles, and all of the organs—including the heart—will be stimulated and developmentally conditioned by exposure to the sauna environment over time.
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- Laukkanen T, Khan H, Zaccardi F, et al. Association between sauna bathing and fatal cardiovascular and all-cause mortality events. JAMA Intern Med 175, No. 4 (2015): 542-548, 2015. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2130724
- Imamura M, Biro S, Kihara T, et al. Repeated thermal therapy improves impaired vascular endothelial function in patients with coronary risk factors. Journal of the American College of Cardiology 38, No. 4 (Oct 2001): 1083-1088. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S073510970101467X
- Merz B. Sauna use linked to longer life, fewer fatal heart problems. Harvard Health Publications (Feb 2015). http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/sauna-use-linked-longer-life-fewer-fatal-heart-problems-201502257755