Scientists from Finland recently published a study in the Journal of Human Hypertension that confirmed sauna bathing provides many health benefits. The new research comes as no surprise to me! I take a sauna every day after my cardio and resistance-training workout. I have been a big proponent of sauna for many years. I personally have experienced its health benefits.
Using an experimental setting, researchers in Finland saw how the sauna may be able to influence health, which confirms previous research in a clinical setting. The latest study with 100 test subjects shows that taking a sauna bath for 30 minutes reduces blood pressure and improves vascular function while increasing heart rate, similar to medium-intensity exercise. This study is significant because it is in a clinical setting. Previous research findings were based on population-based studies. Immediately after 30 minutes of sauna bathing, study participants saw systolic blood pressure reduced from 137mmHg to 130mmHg and their diastolic blood pressure went from 82mmHg to 75mmHg, which means millimeters of mercury (mm) and the height of a column of mercury (Hg), hence like a blood pressure reading.
The heat from sauna improves endothelial and vascular function by increasing nitric oxide and improving circulation and preventing arterial stiffness. Other health benefits of sauna include prevention of respiratory diseases, enhancing cognitive function and increasing growth hormone levels (studies have shown five- to 16-fold increase from sauna use). Sauna also increases heat shock proteins (HSP90), which enhances insulin sensitivity. Since the sauna can increase insulin sensitivity, it can increase fat loss and promote muscle growth and recovery. The sauna can also increase muscular endurance by increasing red blood cells and stimulating the hormone erythropoietin, which can increase oxygen delivery, especially muscle tissue.
I first experienced sauna when I was in college on a four-year wrestling scholarship. I used it to cut weight, burn fat and enhance recovery after my workouts. I did not know the mechanisms of action back then, but I do now. I even have an infrared sauna in my home. Now I take a sauna post-exercise for recovery and after my resistance-training workout to prevent arterial stiffness. Research has shown that weight training can cause arterial stiffness and increase blood pressure. That’s why I recommend people who have high blood pressure hit the weights first, then cardio and Finnish it up with sauna. Both cardio and sauna prevent arterial stiffness from weight training, and lower blood pressure.
Tanjaniina Laukkanen, Setor K Kunutsor, et al. Acute effects of sauna bathing on cardiovascular function. Journal of Human Hypertension, December 2017