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Sauna Sessions May Offer Hot Heart Benefits

While regular sauna use has been associated with lower blood pressure and other cardiovascular benefits, its effects on specific parameters of heart health have remained murky. Now, a study published in the Journal of Human Hypertension may help clear the air, finding that just one sauna session improved arterial stiffness and blood pressure. For the study, 102 adults with an average age of 51 and at least one cardiovascular risk factor, took a 30-minute dry sauna bath. Before, immediately after, and 30 minutes following the sauna session, researchers measured cardiovascular health markers in the participants, including carotid–femoral pulse wave velocity (an indicator of arterial stiffness), blood pressure, and several blood tests, finding that, on average:

  • An increase in heart rate similar to what would be achieved with moderate-intensity exercise and a rise in body temperature of approximately 2º C were recorded during sauna bathing.
  • Carotid–femoral pulse wave velocity decreased, indicating reduced arterial stiffness, immediately following the sauna.
  • Systolic blood pressure decreased from 137 mmHg before to 130 mmHg immediately following the sauna and remained lower 30 minutes later.
  • Diastolic blood pressure dropped from 82 mmHg before to 75 mmHg after the sauna, but had returned to pre-sauna levels 30 minutes later.
  • Blood creatinine levels slightly increased following the sauna, while sodium and potassium blood levels remained unchanged. Although the significance of this is unclear, creatinine is produced by active muscles, and is cleared by the kidneys.

The researchers told TIME that raising your body temperature in a sauna could help arteries widen and increase blood flow, which may lower blood pressure. They also pointed out that saunas may help relieve mental and physical stress, both of which contribute to high blood pressure. That being said, more research on this relationship is needed before you can expect a sauna prescription for high blood pressure from your doctor—but if you enjoy regular sauna bathing, the evidence suggests it may be good for your heart.

Source: Journal of Human Hypertension

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