A long-term prospective study with over 14 years of follow-up has shed new light on the potential cardiovascular benefits of sauna bathing for both men and women.
The study reveals that frequent sauna bathing can significantly reduce the risk of fatal cardiovascular disease (CVD) events. This blog post delves into the findings of the study and the possible underlying mechanisms that make sauna bathing beneficial for cardiovascular health.
- Higher frequency of sauna bathing sessions per week is linked to a decreased risk of fatal CVD events, independent of conventional cardiovascular risk factors and other potential confounders.
- The risk of fatal CVD events decreases with increasing sauna sessions in a dose-response manner, with no threshold effect.
- A decrease in risk of CVD mortality is observed with increasing duration of sauna bathing per week, but further investigation is needed to determine the shape of the relationship.
- The association between sauna bathing frequency and CVD mortality is strong and independent of established and emerging risk factors.
Cardiovascular Health Benefits of Sauna Bathing
According to Huberman Labs, regular use of sauna can improve cardiovascular health. Laukkanen et al. found that through regular use of sauna, participants reduced their risk of cardiovascular events and stroke that led to death. The study demonstrated that increasing the frequency and length of sauna sessions subsequently decreased the long-term risk of cardiovascular disease.
Furthermore, the use of sauna has been studied by other clinical groups and positively correlated with a reduction in “all-cause mortality”—a catchall term referring to death from any cause.
As noted by Dr. Rhonda Patrick, sauna bathing is associated with many health benefits, ranging from cardiovascular and cognitive health to physical fitness and muscle maintenance.
It is generally considered safe for healthy adults and may be safe for special populations with appropriate medical supervision. Heat stress via sauna use elicits hormetic responses driven by molecular mechanisms that protect the body from damage, similar to those elicited by moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise, and may offer a means to forestall the effects of aging and extend healthspan.
Heat in the sauna triggers some of the same mechanisms in the brain and body as if you were physically engaged in cardiovascular exercise. While in the sauna, heart rate and blood flow increase, and blood vessels will vasodilate (expand) as your body works to cool down in order to regulate body temperature.
Sauna bathing has several potential mechanisms that contribute to its protective effects on cardiovascular mortality:
- Increase in heart rate during sauna bathing, similar to low- to moderate-intensity physical exercise.
- Blood pressure-lowering effects, decrease in peripheral vascular resistance and arterial stiffness, and improved arterial compliance after short-term sauna exposure.
- Improved endothelial function after repeated sauna exposure, which may play a role in vascular function.
- Long-term sauna bathing habits may help reduce high systemic blood pressure.
- Regular long-term sauna bathing (average of two sessions per week) increases left ventricular ejection fraction, which may improve left ventricular function.
Implications and Considerations
The findings of the study emphasize the importance of frequent sauna use (over four times per week) and longer duration (more than 45 minutes per week) in reducing the risk of fatal CVD events in men and women. However, there are some limitations to the study, such as potential misclassification and recall bias due to self-administered questionnaires and the inability to directly apply the findings to other types of steam rooms or warm water therapy.
This prospective study provides novel evidence supporting the association between higher frequency and duration of sauna bathing and a lower risk of CVD mortality in both female and male participants. The frequency of sauna bathing also improves the prediction and classification of the 10-year risk for CVD mortality beyond established cardiovascular risk factors.
More studies are needed to confirm these findings in different populations and assess the associations of sauna bathing habits with cause-specific cardiovascular events.
As highlighted by Huberman Labs, the use of a sauna has been correlated with a reduction in all-cause mortality, reinforcing the potential health benefits of this traditional practice.