There’s new evidence that sweating it in the sauna could be good for the heart. A new study from the University of Eastern Finland shows that spending time in the high, dry temperatures of the sauna lowers the risk of high blood pressure (hypertension).
Partaking in the sauna is historically popular, especially in Finland. For thousands of years, people have spent time in the sauna for both religious ceremonies and health reasons. Now, nearly one-third of the Finnish population have a sauna regularly, and they are also becoming more popular in the United States. Saunas are usually around 185 degrees Fahrenheit, and in Finland, they are also very dry, with only 10-20 percent humidity.
As an important risk factor for heart disease, high blood pressure is constantly a concern for people worldwide, where cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death. Past studies have linked having a sauna to reduced risk of sudden cardiac death, cardiovascular mortality, all-cause mortality, and pulmonary diseases.
Published in the American Journal of Hypertension, the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor (KIHD) study included 1,621 middle-aged, hypertension-free Finnish men divided into groups based on their sauna habits:
sauna 2-3 times per week
sauna 4-7 times per week
After a remarkable 22 years, researchers from the KIHD study followed up with their participants, and over all only 15.5 percent were ultimately diagnosed with hypertension. For those with moderate sauna habits, researchers saw a 24 percent less risk of developing high blood pressure. And for those having a sauna between four and seven times per week, the risk was 46 percent lower.
What is the sauna doing for the body? First, the heat prompts the body’s blood vessels to dilate. However, the change in body heat is only by a few degrees; body temperature almost always stays below a safe 100 degree Fahrenheit.
Sweating out fluids also contributes to lower blood pressure, and the relaxation of the body and mind is also a potential factor for some people.
Ultimately, the sauna may be something people can do for their health, on a physical and mental level, to lower blood pressure.