By Dr. Ayo Bankole
Yes, sitting and sweating away in a hot room has tremendous health benefits. If you’ve been avoiding your gym’s sauna; think again. Evidence shows that the benefits of sauna usage not only alleviates rheumatic pain, and helps to clear toxins from your body, but it also helps decrease blood pressure, heart disease, and heart related death. This practice dates back hundreds of years and originates from Scandinavian countries. There, saunas are used for many conditions and could be considered common practice. Although sauna therapy has many benefits, we’ll focus on those related to cardiovascular health.
- Sauna therapy reduces the thickness of the inner lining of the cardiovascular system. The thickness of this lining correlates with the progress of heart disease. The layer of cells that make up the lining are called the endothelium. It happens to be the location where the earliest manifestations of heart disease occur. This lining can be used to test for the presence of early heart disease and to measure the progress of therapy. Sauna therapy helps preserve a healthy endothelium and helps reverse dysfunction.
- Hypertension or high blood pressure is a strong risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Many persons have a resistant form that responds poorly to lifestyle changes, and medications. Sauna therapy reduces the stiffness of the arteries, leading to reduced resistance and therefore lower blood pressure. One small study of males with high blood pressure found an average reduction of nearly twenty points.
- Sauna therapy reduces rates of sudden cardiovascular death. A 2015 Finnish study revealed that individuals who regularly use sauna therapy enjoy reduced rates of sudden cardiac death. Another study from the same year revealed reduced rates of fatal cardiovascular and coronary heart disease deaths along with lower death rates from all causes.
Before beginning a sauna session make sure you are well hydrated. Drink water during your session and mix an electrolyte drink to replace those lost to sweat. Start with shorter sessions and increase with time and as your tolerance to heat improves. With regular sauna sessions you may enjoy many cardiovascular benefits of sauna usage. Cautions for sauna use include dehydration and temporary elevations in blood pressure.
*Individuals with heart disease, chest pain, diseases of the heart valves, abnormal heart rhythms or congestive heart failure should see their doctors first to ensure they are healthy enough to be exposed to extreme temperatures. Sauna therapy should be avoided in early pregnancy.