KUOPIO, Finland — Worried about hypertension? Wrap up your next visit to your local fitness club with a session in the sauna. A new study finds those who use a sauna frequently nearly cut in half their risk of high blood pressure.
The long-term study of more than 1,600 middle-aged Finnish men, which saw researchers from the University of Eastern Finland following up with participants more than two decades later, showed a sauna’s benefits for reducing hypertension went up as sauna use increased. The study’s findings are especially important as increased blood pressure is a key risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which is the number one leading cause of death globally.
“Sauna bathing, an activity that promotes relaxation and well-being, may be a recommendable habit in the prevention of future hypertension,” the researchers write in the recently published findings.
Out of the 1,621 men who participated, more than 15% developed high blood pressure in the 22+ years of the study. The risk of hypertension was found to be 24% decreased for participants who used saunas of 2-3 times a week and 46% decreased for those that used a sauna 4-7 times a week.
The researchers say that during sauna bathing, body temperature can increase by nearly 4°F, which causes blood vessels to dilate. In addition to improving the function of the inside layer of blood vessels (endothelial function), and inducing sweating, they note that a sauna bath may also reduce hypertension simply through its relaxing effect.
The same researchers have also shown that frequent sauna use lowers chances of dying from heart attacks, cardiovascular disease, and other risks such as cancer.
“But of course, one sauna may vary from the next,” notes heat shock evangelist Dr. Rhonda Patrick, in a YouTube video discussing these findings. “The average temperature in the dry saunas used in the study were hot, 79°C or 174°F, often used with a splash of water poured over hot rocks to increase the humidity for a duration of up to or exceeding 20 minutes. This means the results might not be applicable to hot tubs, steam rooms, and infrared saunas which often operate at a lower temperature.”
No access to a sauna? Don’t worry, other research is revealing that there are many ways to reduce risk of hypertension. One such recent study finds that a diet rich in foods with high amounts of potassium (commonly found in fruits, vegetables, and beans) can be a big help in bringing down blood pressure.
Other established ways to reduce hypertension include maintaining a healthy weight, exercising frequently, and limiting alcohol consumption. But, if you can make it to a sauna frequently, the University of Eastern Finland study offers compelling evidence that it can be of real benefit.
The full study was published recently in the American Journal of Hypertension.