For more than 20 years researchers around the world have been looking at the effect of regular sauna use on cardiovascular disease to understand how it leads to better heart health, with consistently positive findings.
How exactly does sauna improve heart health?
Summarized helpfully in this research review paper, intense short-term heat exposure raises the temperature of your skin and your core, which in turn activates thermoregulatory pathways plus the central and autonomic nervous systems. This leads to: a higher heart rate, increased blood flow, and (of course) plenty of sweat!
Sweat is our body's way of keeping us cool and maintaining a temperature within the narrow range all mammals need to survive (also known as homeothermy). It is also a sign of ‘hormesis’, aka a super-smart adaptive response by our cells to moderate stress.
On a cellular level, saunas bring about metabolic changes including: the production of heat shock proteins, reduced oxidative stress and inflammation pathway activities, increased Nitric Oxide bioavailability, and more.
Essentially, a sauna induces a similar effect on your heart as moderate exercise. While studies suggest sauna should not be used instead of exercise in healthy people (read on to find out why exercise PLUS sauna is in fact the gold standard for heart health), it’s good news for people who are injured, or may not otherwise be able to participate in regular physical activity.
With so much research out there we’ve done the hard work for you and want to share our top research-backed tips to hack your heart health:
1. Up your sauna game to 4 (or more!) times each week. An often-cited study undertaken in Finland followed more than 2,000 middle-aged men across two decades and found that those who used sauna 4-7 times per week were 63% less likely to suffer sudden cardiac death when compared with a group who only used sauna once a week. But wait, there’s more! The frequent sauna-goers were 40% less likely to die from any cause during the period of observation, and much less likely to suffer from dementia (66% less) and Alzheimer’s disease (65% less). Wow.
2. Combine frequent saunas with strong cardio-fitness to multiply results. In a separate analysis of the same cohort of Finnish men, it was found that participants with low cardio-fitness but high frequency of sauna bathing (3-7 times/week) reduced their risk of sudden cardiac death by around 29% when compared with a low cardio + low sauna frequency control group. But the most exciting finding was that participants with high cardio-fitness and high sauna use reduced their risk by a huge 69% (which was more than the high cardio-fitness + low sauna frequency group whose risk was reduced by 51%).
3. Use a sauna after exercise to help lower blood pressure and cholesterol. In another study, participants randomly assigned to complete a 15-minute post-workout sauna sesh displayed the greatest change in cardiovascular fitness, lower systolic blood pressure, and lower total cholesterol levels compared with exercise only and a control group. This led researchers to conclude that “sauna bathing is a valuable lifestyle tool that complements exercise for improving cardiorespiratory fitness and decreasing systolic blood pressure”.
4. Sauna in the evening for relaxation and a deeper sleep. Sauna increases your core body temperature, but when you hop out your body will bring this back down (remember our pal: homeothermy!?) This mimics the body’s natural drop in temperature in the evening, which can signal that it’s time to sleep, potentially helping you fall asleep faster. Given a lack of sleep has been frequently cited as a risk factor for heart disease, anything that helps us get those precious 8 hours, will improve heart health.
So what are you waiting for?! Up your sauna game to four (or more) times a week, and do it in the comfort of your own home with Heat Healers OG Infrared sauna blanket.
DISCLAIMER: This post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute health advice. Please consult with a healthcare professional before making any changes to your health routine.