Staying heart healthy off to the sauna

Off to the sauna!Isolated sweating in the Finnish sauna causes a short-term blood prere reduction and vasodilatation. But only passionate sauna lovers with several sauna sessions per week also benefit from long-term effects for heart health.

Patients at risk for cardiovascular disease were previously discouraged from sauna use because of fears of excessive cardiovascular stress due to heat stimulus. However, recent research findings have been able to revise these amptions. According to a prospective study, sweating in the sauna is now even associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. [1] In particular, arterial stiffness forms a key indicator associated with increased cardiovascular risk. The acute effects of a sauna session on this, as well as other vascular. However, hemodynamic factors have hardly been studied so far.

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Finnish scientists therefore focused an experimental study on the acute effects of a single sauna session on arterial stiffness and hemodynamic parameters in patients with at least one cardiovascular risk factor.[2] Patients with high cholesterol, hypertension, obesity or diabetes were included in the study. Individuals with a family history of coronary artery disease, as well as former smokers recruited at a median age of about 52 years. The study population consisted of approximately half female and half male subjects. Patients with acute or diagnosed cardiovascular disease or currently experiencing cardiovascular symptoms were excluded.

Prior to sauna bathing, screening was performed to determine study participants' medical history, blood lipid levels, blood prere, physical fitness, and resting ECG value. Study participants completed a half-hour sauna session, including a two-minute break after 15 minutes, during which they took a shower without a temperature setting. The intervention took place in a traditional Finnish sauna with a relative humidity of 10-20. A temperature of 73° Celsius measured in the sauna cabin (with a deviation of 2° Celsius upwards or downwards). After leaving the sauna, subjects recovered for 30 minutes at room temperature (21° Celsius). During and after the sauna intervention, study participants were allowed to drink up to 500 ml of still water. Before and immediately after the sauna session, as well as after the 30-minute relaxation period, parameters related to arterial stiffness, pulse wave velocity, mean arterial blood prere, pulse prere, heart rate, and left ventricular expulsion (difference between cardiac cycle duration and diastole) were measured, and the augmentation index was determined, which indicates the value of the ratio between pulse wave prere and reflected pulse and represents a factor independent of blood prere values with regard to cardiovascular disease risk.

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With the exception of augmentation prere and pulse prere amplitude, there was a significant decrease in both vascular elasticity and hemodynamic values immediately after the sauna session. Thus, upper (systolic) blood prere dropped from 137 mmHg to 130 mmHg, while lower (diastolic) blood prere reduced from 82 mmHg to 75 mmHg. The blood flow velocity in the carotid and femoral artery, which is essential for the elasticity of the vessels, was reduced from 9.8 meters per second to 8.6 meters per second. The significantly lowered values of mean arterial blood prere and left ventricular expulsion persisted even after the half-hour rest period, while the other values returned to pre-sauna levels. The acute blood prere reduction measured after the sauna session was comparable to that measured after physical exercise. Although pulse prere and heart rate were briefly elevated during the sauna intervention, this had no effect on pulse prere amplitude, which is a key biomarker of overall arterial function and cardiovascular risk. Thus statements of earlier studies could be disproved, which had ascertained an increase of the pulse prere amplitude under sauna influence. Among other things, the scientists explain the observed positive effects with a reduced plasma volume due to the sauna-specific heat as well as an increased dehydration despite fluid intake. None of the study participants reported side effects during or after sauna use.


According to this study, for individuals at increased cardiovascular risk, occasional sauna sessions represent a hazard-free measure for acute improvement of their hemodynamic values and arterial health, comparable to the short-term effects of physical exercise. Contrary to earlier studies, which recommend sauna sessions at milder temperatures up to a maximum of 60° Celsius for patients with elevated blood prere, sauna sessions at a temperature of 71 to 75° Celsius, as is typical for the Finnish sauna, are stated here to be harmless for patients with cardiovascular risks and even to promote cardiovascular health. With this, the scientists see the results of an earlier study confirmed, which examined the acute effects of the Finnish sauna bath with cold water immersion in patients with heart failure and came to similar results. [3] However, if you want a lasting effect of saunas on heart health, such as a sustained reduction in blood prere, you can only achieve this by taking regular saunas 4 to 7 times a week, as another study by Finnish scientists confirms. [4] Whether the benefits of regular saunas have a more beneficial effect on heart health than other interventions, such as.B. regular exercise, or whether exercise before a sauna bath can increase the positive effects even more, however, still needs to be tested in further studies involving a control group.

Sauna bathing is not recommended in patients with acute coronary syndrome, endocarditis, aortic stenosis, and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, as well as in those taking medications such as PDE-5 inhibitors and nitrates. In case of doubt, the safety of sauna bathing should be clarified with the attending physician.

Literature on "Staying heart healthy? Off to the sauna!"

1) Laukkanen T, Khan H, Zaccardi F, et al. Association between sauna bathing and fatal cardiovascular and all-cause mortality events. JAMA Intern Med 2015; 175: 542-548 Abstract

2) Lee E, Laukkanen T, Kunutsor SK, Khan H, Willeit P, Zaccardi F, Laukkanen JA. Sauna exposure leads to improved arterial compliance. Findings from a non-randomised experimental study. Eur J Prev Cardiol 2018; 25(2): 130-138 Abstract

3) Radtke T, Poerschke D, Wilhelm M, et al. Acute effects of Finnish sauna and cold-water immersion on haemodynamic variables and autonomic nervous system activity in patients with heart failure. Eur J Prev Cardiol 2016; 23: 593-601 Abstract

4) Zaccardi F, Laukkanen T, Willeit P, et al. Sauna bathing and incidence of hypertension: a prospective cohort study.

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