How Long Should You Sauna For Heart Health?
Sauna bathing has quickly emerged as a powerful tool in the fight for better cardiovascular health. In fact, a long-term cohort randomised study investigating the combined impact of cardiorespiratory fitness and frequent sauna baths on sudden cardiac death risk found some astonishing results. It found, if you engage in frequent sauna baths with maintaining moderate levels of fitness, you enjoy a significantly lower risk of sudden cardiac death than less sauna-savvy equivalents. However, while we know that frequent sauna bathing can lead to impressive sauna health benefits, we’re still left wondering: how long should you sauna to achieve sauna heart health? In this blog post, we’re going to uncover the secrets to maximising your heart health and achieving a longer, healthier life through the therapeutic practice of sauna bathing. So, grab a towel, crank up the heat, and let’s get started!
Sauna Heart Health Studies: How long should you sit in a sauna for heart health benefits?
According to the research, you should sauna for 30 minutes, at a temperature of 60ºC for a frequency of 4 to 7 sauna baths a week, for a minimum of 8 weeks. If you can sauna bath at this frequency for a prolonged period of your life, the sauna heart health benefits could provide a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, sudden fatal cardiovascular death, all-cause mortality and greatly improved cardiovascular function.
The blog post discussed a clinical study that utilised a cabin sauna and measured its temperature to showcase the practical applications of using a sauna and the resulting outcomes. It is crucial to understand that the advantages are not due to the temperature of the sauna cabin but due to the increase in core body temperature, where the cabin temperature is merely a tool to raise body temperature in a controlled environment.
Study 1: Effects of sauna bathing with aerobic exercise
A randomised controlled study using data from the Kuopio Ischemic Heart Disease investigated the combined impact of cardiorespiratory fitness and frequency of sauna bathing on the risk of sudden cardiac death in 2291 men aged 42-61 years. The participants were assessed for cardiorespiratory fitness using objective measurements and frequency of sauna bathing using a baseline. Both their cardiorespiratory fitness and frequency of sauna bathing were categorised into low and high, low was defined as less than 2 saunas a week and high as many as 3-7 sessions a week respectively, with sauna sessions ranging from 11 minutes to 19 minutes.
After 26 years, 226 sudden cardiac deaths occurred among the participants.
Exercise and sauna bathing results
The study found that high cardiorespiratory fitness and high frequency of sauna bathing were associated with a significantly lower risk of sudden cardiac death compared to low cardiorespiratory fitness and low frequency of sauna bathing. The study found that:
- Participants with high cardio-fitness and high frequency of sauna bathing had a hazard ratio of 0.31, which means their risk of sudden cardiac death was about 69% lower compared to the group with low sauna use and low exercise.
- Participants with high cardio-fitness and low frequency of sauna bathing had a hazard ratio of 0.49, which means their risk of sudden cardiac death was about 51% lower compared to the group with low sauna use and low exercise.
- Participants with low cardio-fitness and high frequency of sauna bathing had a hazard ratio of 0.71, which means their risk of sudden cardiac death was about 29% lower compared to the group with low sauna use and low exercise.
Sauna bathing on cardiovascular risk factors
The results from this study show that from frequent sauna baths alone (more than twice a week) participants had a 29% lower chance of fatal cardiovascular incidents. When combined with aerobic exercise, frequent sauna users had a whopping 69% less chance of having a fatal cardiovascular incident. And those who used a sauna for 19 minutes or longer had a 53% lower risk than those who did 11 minutes or less. This study is one of the longest sauna therapy studies taken and should provide confidence in the health benefits that sauna bathing has on heart health. But this isn’t the only regular sauna bathing study that looks at physical activity and frequent sauna use for cardiovascular diseases.
Study 2: Utilising post-exercise Saunas to improve cardiovascular function
To this effect, another study set out to compare the effects of regular exercise and post-exercise sauna sessions on 49 adults who had a single cardiovascular disease risk factor. The randomised groups were categorised into three segments – post-exercise sauna, exercise only, and a control group – and examined over an 8-week period. The post-exercise sauna group were subject to 15 minutes in a sauna bath after regular exercise, and blood pressure, cardio-fitness, fat mass, total cholesterol levels, and arterial stiffness were all measured. Results found that the post-exercise sauna displayed the greatest change in cardiovascular fitness, lower systolic blood pressure, and lower total cholesterol levels compared with exercise only which came in second best and then the control group which had no change.
This study suggests that as little as 15 minutes in a sauna room after a workout has dramatic benefits in the fight against cardiovascular disease, such as fatal coronary heart disease, stroke and artery disease.
Study 3: Frequent sauna bathing effects in both men and women
Both previous studies mentioned solely used male participants, which makes this next study extremely valuable in looking at the holistic effects on both men’s and women’s sauna benefits.
This study found that the higher the frequency and duration of the sauna bath, the lower the incidence of CVD. 1688 participants aged 53–74 years (51.4% female) were classified into three groups based on the frequency of sauna use:
- one sauna session per week
- two to three sauna sessions per week
- and four to seven sauna sessions per week
The study followed the participants for 15 years, during which a total of 181 fatal CVD events occurred. The research found that the risk of CVD all-cause mortality decreased linearly with increasing sauna sessions per week, with no threshold effect. The results were as followed:
- Participants who had two to three sauna sessions per week had a 29% lower risk of CVD mortality (hazard ratio of 0.71) compared to those who had one session per week.
- Those who had four to seven sauna sessions per week had an even greater reduction in risk, with a 70% lower risk of CVD mortality (hazard ratio of 0.30).
After adjusting for established CVD risk factors and other potentially confounding variables, the risk reduction remained significant.
- Participants who had two to three sauna sessions per week had a 25% lower risk of CVD mortality (hazard ratio of 0.75)
- Participants who had four to seven sessions per week had a remarkably 77% lower risk of CVD mortality (hazard ratio of 0.23).
These findings correlate with the previous studies focusing only on male participants and suggest that regular sauna bathing is associated with a significant reduction in the risk of CVD all-cause mortality, with a greater reduction in risk being observed among those who have more frequent sauna sessions.
Decrease the risk of heart disease with regular Sauna bathing
While these studies show that saunas can decrease your risk of all-cause mortality from cardiovascular disease, maintaining recommended physical activity levels still provide the greatest impact on cardiovascular function. Exercising regularly combined with an occasional post-exercise sauna session seems to have greater improvements for improved cardiovascular function, and those with low physical activity levels could have the greatest improvements, simply by sitting back and relaxing in an infrared sauna.
How Does Sauna Bathing Work For Heart Health?
Saunas reduce the risk of CVD because the passive heat therapy of sauna exposure leads to lowering blood pressure, and repeated sauna treatment causes improvements in resting blood pressure – as well as an immediate increase in heart rate and vasodilation that improves blood flow. Plus, the calories burned during your sauna session support weight loss for a healthy body mass index and obese mortality risk. A single sauna session (Finnish Sauna or Infrared Sauna) provides your heart with a moderate exercise workout without the creation of metabolic waste products. Therefore, for your heart, the benefits of sauna bathing are similar to that of going for a walk without oxidative stress.
What is Sauna bathing benefits for your heart?
Sauna bathing works at reducing the risk of fatal cardiovascular disease by creating a range of benefits to improve cardiovascular function, such as:
- Reduced blood pressure
- Reduced oxidative stress
- Reduced inflammation
- Activation of the autonomic nervous system
- Improved lipid profile associated with CVD, and
- Reduction in arterial stiffness.
All these benefits reduce the stress on your heart and cardiovascular system, reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease and stress. You can read more in this review of evidence by the Mayo Clinic.
Are longer sauna bathing sessions better for heart health?
Yes, long sauna bathing duration is better for cardiovascular benefits the same way longer moderate exercise intensity workouts are better for heart health. This is because the longer you are sitting in a sauna and sweating, the more your heart has to work. However, as shown in the previous studies that looked at Finnish Sauna bathing, as little as 11 minutes can still provide adequate benefits when frequent sauna bathing habits are present.
Are frequent sauna bathing habits better for heart health?
Yes, frequent sauna use has been shown to have the greatest impact on the benefits of sauna bathing for heart health in the research mentioned above. For an improved reduced risk of CVD, regular sauna use over long periods of time show the greatest results compared to long session times of sauna for short periods of frequency.
Does sauna bathing improve blood pressure?
Have you ever wondered how sauna bathing can help to lower blood pressure? Well, the answer lies in the heat. Systolic blood pressure is the measurement of the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats and pumps blood. High systolic blood pressure is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. When you enter a sauna, the high temperature causes your blood vessels to widen or dilate. This results in increased blood flow and a reduction in resistance within the vessels. Interestingly, this effect is similar to that of blood pressure medications. But that’s not all. Sauna bathing also triggers the release of endorphins – the body’s natural painkillers that promote relaxation and reduce stress levels. We all know that lower stress levels are good for our health, but did you know they’re also linked to lower blood pressure?
Lowering blood pressure is essential because high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. In fact, nearly one-third of all adults in Australia have high blood pressure, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. The good news is that this condition can be managed through lifestyle changes such as exercise, a healthy diet, and stress reduction techniques – like sauna bathing.
Research has even found that regular sauna use can lead to a decrease in blood pressure over time. One study conducted in Finland showed that men who used a sauna regularly had a 46% lower risk of developing hypertension than those who did not use a sauna.
Heat Therapy in Sport and Health Sciences
Heat therapy is a widely used method in sports and health sciences that involves the application of heat to the body through various means. The benefits of heat therapy are numerous, including reducing muscle soreness, stiffness, and pain, promoting relaxation and reducing stress levels, improving muscle function, flexibility, endurance and overall performance, and improving cardio-health by lowering blood pressure, improving heart function, and improving insulin sensitivity.
Types of thermal therapy for sport and health sciences
There are different types of heat therapy, including hot water immersion or hot tubs, heating pads, traditional sauna baths, and infrared sauna baths, each with its unique benefits. A study conducted by Bristol Medical School and published in the International Journal of Cardiology found that regular sauna bathing reduced blood pressure and arterial stiffness in healthy adults.
The Global Threat of Cardiovascular Diseases
Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are responsible for 32% of global deaths each year according to the World Health Organisation. The most critical lifestyle risk factors for CVD are an unhealthy diet, insufficient exercise, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption. So what can you do to lower your risk of CVD? Regular infrared sauna benefits can help protect your heart.
Are Infrared Saunas good for cardiovascular function?
Yes, saunas are good for cardiovascular function and at lowering the risk of fatal cardiovascular disease as shown in the previously mentioned clinical studies. Because the most critical behavioural risk factors for fatal cardiovascular disease are associated with lifestyles, the effects of sauna bathing offer an easier and more accessible way to address these.
By simply sitting there in your infrared sauna, you can dramatically reduce your risk of fatal cardiovascular disease. For people who have difficulty exercising, sauna use offers an accessible way to increase your heart rate, reduce blood pressure and sweat out some toxins. There are lots of health benefits associated with sauna use, from sauna-burning calories to sauna immunity-boosting benefits. While the benefits are clear to be seen, the underlying causes of cardiovascular disease are still not well understood, so scientists need to continue studies to better understand the underlying mechanisms of sauna use benefits. One thing is for certain, the use of regular sauna bathing can have a profound impact on the risk of fatal cardiovascular disease.
Sauna Bathing For Fatal Coronary Heart Disease
As we’ve previously discussed, sauna therapy has shown great potential for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. One particular cardiovascular disease that sauna therapy has been found to be effective in treating is coronary heart disease.
Understanding Coronary Heart Disease
CHD is a condition where plaque buildup in the blood vessels supplying the heart muscle results in narrowed arteries. This leads to decreased blood flow and oxygen to the heart, causing chest pain (angina) and, in severe cases, heart attack. Unfortunately, CHD is the leading cause of death worldwide, responsible for over 17 million deaths annually.
Frequent Sauna Use for reduced risk of fatal CHD
However, research suggests that sauna therapy can be an effective solution to reducing the risk of fatal CHD. The study mentioned earlier conducted by researchers from the University of Eastern Finland found that regular sauna use can reduce the risk of fatal CHD by up to 73%. The study followed over 2,300 men for an average of 20 years, and those who used a sauna 2-3 times per week had a significantly lower risk of CHD-related death compared to those who used a sauna only once a week or less. While sauna bathing appears to be a promising therapy for reduced risk factors of fatal CHD, it is not a replacement for other heart-healthy behaviours. The endothelial function (the lining of blood vessels) has a crucial role in regulating blood flow and vessel dilation. Additionally, the heat and steam from the sauna may help improve endothelial function by increasing the production of nitric oxide, a molecule that helps regulate blood flow. Proper endothelial function prevents blood clots and promotes new blood vessel growth, all crucial for heart health. An impaired function can lead to conditions like atherosclerosis, hypertension, and heart failure.
Can you use a Sauna with a heart condition?
While sauna bathing has many health benefits, individuals with heart conditions should exercise caution when using a sauna. This is because the heat can cause an increase in heart rate, which can be dangerous for those with certain heart conditions.
Can I use a Sauna with a stent?
It is important to consult with a doctor before using a sauna if you have a stent. for the same reasons mentioned earlier. While some individuals with a stent may be able to use a sauna with caution, it is best to seek medical guidance before doing so. Ultimately, the decision to use a sauna with a stent should be made in consultation with a healthcare professional.
Are Saunas hard on your heart?
Saunas have the potential to put a strain on your heart, particularly if you have an underlying heart condition. The elevated temperature in the sauna can cause a spike in heart rate, resulting in additional stress on your cardiovascular system.
Who should avoid Saunas?
People who should avoid saunas include people with severe medical issues, heart problems, pregnant women and specific illnesses.
If you have any questions regarding your current medical condition and the use of a sauna please consult your medical doctor before use. Infrared saunas are contraindicated for the following conditions or you should consult your medical doctor prior to use. Infrared Saunas creating a cure for or treating any disease is neither implied nor should be inferred. In the rare event that you experience pain and/or discomfort while in the sauna immediately discontinue use.
Seek permission from your doctor prior to use for the following conditions:
- Taking Medications
- Under 12 years old
- The Elderly
- Cardiovascular Conditions
- Chronic Conditions
Infrared sauna use is contraindicated for people with following conditions:
- Insensitivity to Heat
- Alcohol / Alcohol Abuse
Adapted from a blog from Clearlight Saunas