Saunas as good as exercise for heart health

Recent research out of Finland — where saunas were invented — has shown that regularly “bathing” in saunas (as the Finnish have done for a couple thousand years) can slash your risk of everything from coronary diseases to cardiac death to Alzheimer’s and dementia.

And now, a new pair of studies shows why — because the changes that saunas make to your body are a lot like the benefits you get from a brisk workout.

In the studies out of Finland (where else?), about 100 people who were at risk for cardiovascular disease sat in a hot sauna for half an hour.

Researchers measured their blood pressure, heart rate, and the function of their arteries before, during, and 30 minutes after the sauna.

After they crunched the numbers, it turned out that the participants reduced their systolic (top number) blood pressure by about 7 mmHg — and it remained even lower 30 minutes after they left the sauna.

That’s about the same drop you’d expect after exercise!

And that makes sense, because participant heart rate also increased during the sauna to roughly the same level we see with medium-intensity exercise.

What’s more, something else also improved with sauna bathing: their “vascular compliance,” or the measure of how well the arteries expand and contract.

And that squares with previous evidence that saunas’ high temperatures increase your body’s production of nitric oxide, a chemical compound that dilates your arteries.

With more flexible arteries and more blood flowing to every nook and cranny, you’re wiping out some of the key risk factors for cardiovascular disease and dementia.

What’s more, saunas help you sweat out toxins through your pores… so less of each wind up in your blood vessels and your brain!

And as the studies showed, saunas are safe even for those who may already be on a path toward heart disease.

Just don’t go alone — and don’t stay in there too long. Saunas are set to a very hot, dry temperature (between 180 and 195 degrees Fahrenheit), and you may need to build up your “heat tolerance” before you can sit for a 30-minute stretch.

Luckily, you don’t have to shove off to Scandinavia to reap the benefits of saunas. You can find public ones right here in the States at many spas, gyms (especially ones with a pool), and even hotel fitness centers.

If you prefer some privacy, you can also get a small sauna that you can buy and install at home, usually found wherever hot tubs and jacuzzis are sold.

Wishing you the best of health,

Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld
Editor
Nutrition & Healing

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Sources:

Sauna Health Benefits: Are saunas healthy or harmful?, published online, health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/saunas-and-your-health

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