Saunas have been used for centuries as a means of relaxation and stress reduction, and more recently, they have been investigated for their potential health benefits. One area of interest is their effect on blood pressure (BP).
In this article, we will explore the available evidence on the effects of sauna use on blood pressure and consider the potential mechanisms behind any observed effects.
Short answer: Yes
Studies have found that sauna use leads to an initial increase in blood pressure while in the sauna, but a subsequent decrease below the baseline afterwards.
What’s more, a study suggests that frequent sauna use significantly reduces the risk of developing hypertension (high blood pressure).
In conclusion: yes, saunas do lower blood pressure.
- Sauna use acutely increases blood pressure while in the sauna
- Blood pressure drops below pre-sauna level after the sauna
Two recent studies have looked at the immediate effects of sauna use on blood pressure.
The first study, published in 2017 in the Journal of Human Hypertension, included 102 participants with at least one cardiovascular risk factor and found that sauna exposure led to a significant decrease in blood pressure.
Mean systolic BP decreased from 137 (16) to 130 (14) mmHg and diastolic BP from 82 (10) to 75 (9) mmHg.
Importantly, the blood pressure reduction was sustained, with systolic BP remaining lower compared to pre-sauna levels during the 30-minute recovery period.
The second study, published in 2019 in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine, found that blood pressure significantly increased during sauna use.
This finding is contrary to the common belief that acute sauna use leads to a reduction in BP.
However, the study also found that after the sauna session, BP decreased significantly compared to baseline.
Based on these two studies, it appears that sauna use initially raises blood pressure while in the sauna, but lowers it below the baseline afterwards.
- Frequent sauna use seems to significantly reduce the risk of developing hypertension
- Men with 2-3 sauna visits per week had 24% reduced risk compared to men with 1 visit a week
- Men with 4-7 sauna visits per week had 46% reduced risk compared to men with 1 visit a week
A study published in the American Journal of Hypertension in 2015 examined the relationship between sauna use and the risk of developing hypertension.
The study followed 1,621 middle-aged men living in Finland, where sauna bathing is very common, for an average of 22 years. Only men with normal blood pressure, and who reported visiting a sauna at least once a week, were included in the analysis.
The results of the study showed that men who used the sauna four to seven times a week for about 19 minutes each time had a nearly 50% reduced risk of developing hypertension compared to those who visited the sauna just once a week.
Those who used a sauna 2-3 times a week were found to have a 24% lower risk for developing hypertension compared to those who used a sauna once a week.
This study suggests that regular sauna use may be associated with a reduced risk of developing hypertension.
However, it’s important to note that this was an observational study and does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between sauna use and the risk of hypertension. More research is needed to fully understand the potential benefits of sauna use for hypertension prevention.
Potential Mechanisms for Sauna-Induced Blood Pressure Reduction
While the exact mechanisms by which sauna use may lower blood pressure are not fully understood, there are a few possible explanations that have been proposed by researchers.
One theory is that sauna use may improve the function of the cells lining the blood vessels (called vascular endothelial cells). This may help to reduce blood pressure by promoting healthy blood flow and preventing the formation of blood clots.
Sauna use may also affect the function of the autonomic nervous system, which plays a role in regulating blood pressure. The process of warming up in the sauna followed by cooling off and relaxing may help to improve the functioning of this system and lower blood pressure.
Finally, the increase in heart rate that occurs during sauna use (up to 100-150 beats per minute) may help to improve the function of the blood vessels and lower blood pressure.
While the benefits of this process are similar to those seen with low to moderate intensity exercise, it is important to note that sauna use does not involve the active use of skeletal muscles like exercise does.
How long does it take for a sauna to lower blood pressure?
There is no evidence of an optimal time to spend in a sauna for decreasing blood pressure. Studies on the effects of sauna use on BP have used a range of sauna durations, from 19 minutes to 30 minutes. According to recent research, it seems that frequency is more important than the duration in this regard.
Does sweating lower blood pressure?
Sweating itself does not directly lower BP, but the process of sweating may be associated with other physiological changes that can affect BP. For example, sauna use, which often involves sweating, may affect the function of the vascular endothelium, the autonomic nervous system, and the blood vessels, all of which can influence BP.
Is taking sauna good for your heart?
Research suggests that regular sauna use has a range of benefits for cardiovascular health, including a reduced risk of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and sudden cardiac death. So yes, regular visits to a sauna is definitely good for your heart.