Heart disease is the the number 1 killer in the United States, responsible for approximately 1 in 4 deaths. Because of this, there has been a plethora of recent research dedicated towards finding ways to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease. A new study from BMC Medicine suggests that there may be a new way to reduce the risk of death from heart disease — sauna bathing.
Sauna bathing is a form of passive heat therapy, which has been growing in popularity. Most people use it to relax and unwind, but it can also be used for its positive health effects, including a reduced risk of high blood pressure, stroke, neurocognitive diseases and lung diseases. Prior to the study, it had been suggested that regular heat therapy may improve heart function through lowering blood pressure and reducing arterial stiffness.
The Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition with the University of Eastern Finland’s Tanjaniina Laukkenen and colleagues performed this study, which endured for over 14 years and followed 1,688 participants. The participants ranged from 53 to 74 years, of which 51.4% were women. The participants were assessed based on their sauna bathing habits. Variables such as level of physical activity, socioeconomic status, gender, age, BMI, smoking, alcohol consumption, and pre-existing health issues were controlled for in their methodology and calculations.
The results of the study were clear: the risk of cardiovascular disease mortality decreased with increasing sauna sessions per week. The higher frequency and duration of sauna bathing are strongly associated with reduced cardiovascular disease deaths. There was a substantial risk reduction of fatal heart disease events in men and women who sauna bathe for over four times per week, which total over 45 minutes per week. of over four times per week, and duration of sauna bathing of more than 45 minutes per week.
Why is this so? The researchers suggest that this may be because hot temperatures increase heart rate, in a similar manner to what occurs during low to moderate-intensity exercise. Sauna use may also help to lower blood pressure and increase vascular function.
This study shows promising associations between cardiovascular mortality and sauna use. However, as it is the only existing study on this topic, more research needs to take place. As Laukkenen cautions, “Our results extend previous evidence that sauna bathing may have cardiovascular benefits; however, further studies are still needed to confirm our findings in different populations and also assess the associations of sauna bathing habits with cause-specific cardiovascular events.”