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Sauna improves health by lowering blood pressure and artery stiffness, study finds

The University of Eastern Finland has uncovered new evidence of sauna's beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system.

sauna
Image: Antti Kolppo / Yle

New research from the University of Eastern Finland has dug deeper into the positive health effects of enjoying regular saunas. The study explores the physiological mechanisms such as changes in blood pressure and circulation that take place in the human body as a result of sauna.

Studies have existed for years already that demonstrate how taking saunas is good for your health. Partaking of regular saunas has been linked in previous studies to a reduced risk of heart disease, cardiac arrest and high blood pressure, and has even been shown to stave off the onset of Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

Now researchers in eastern Finland have set out to discover what actually happens in the body to produce these extraordinary effects.

One hundred and two volunteer test subjects participated in the research project by agreeing to be monitored while they enjoyed sauna. The sauna session in question lasted 30 minutes, and took place at a temperature of 73 degrees Celsius with a humidity rate of 10-20 percent.

The study focused on measuring the sauna-goers' blood pressure and the vascular compliance of their throat and thigh bone arteries both immediately after the sauna session and again 30 minutes after the session had ended.

Heat and relaxation do the trick

Results found that the participants' body temperatures rose by two degrees while they were in the sauna and their heart rate rose to reach the equivalent of that gained from moderate exercise.

Researchers also observed that blood pressure decreased, remaining lower even 30 minutes after the sauna session had ended. Vascular compliance had also improved, which means that the blood vessel walls throughout the body grew more elastic in the heat. 

The test subjects’ mean carotid-femoral pulse wave velocity, an indicator of vascular compliance, was 9.8 m/s before sauna, but decreased to 8.6 m/s immediately after.

The study concluded that the benefits of regular sauna bathing on cardiac health can be explained by the fact that sauna bathing reduces blood pressure and increases vascular compliance, but adds that further research from experimental settings is still needed.

The results of the University of Eastern Finland's latest study were published in the Journal of Human Hypertension and the vascular compliance findings were reported in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. The study was funded by the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation Tekes and was carried out under the leadership of Professor Jari Laukkanen.

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