Sauna habit may have benefits of regular exerciseResearchers say benefits increase with frequency.
By Amby Burfoot Washington Post
SEPTEMBER 29, 2018 — 10:49AM
New research indicates that regular saunas could be as healthful as regular exercise. Bonus: You don’t really have to do that frosty dip.
The Mayo Clinic Proceedings published a paper titled “Cardiovascular and Other Health Benefits of Sauna Bathing: A Review of the Evidence.” The researchers conclude: “Emerging evidence suggests that sauna bathing may be linked to several health benefits, which include reduction in the risk of vascular diseases such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and neurocognitive diseases; nonvascular conditions such as pulmonary diseases; mortality; and amelioration of conditions such as arthritis, headache, and flu.”
A team of researchers (yes, from Finland) reviewed all existing studies on sauna bathing through February of this year. The studies typically included subjects who spent five to 20 minutes in a sauna heated to 175 to 210 degrees, followed by a swim, shower or return to room temperature. Sauna exposure raised subjects’ heart rates to 120 to 150 beats per minute and increased blood flow to the skin, much as moderate exercise does.
Several large studies have determined that the practice is linked to lower blood pressure and decreased artery stiffness. In addition, subjects who visit a sauna four to seven times a week have 60 percent lower rates of heart disease and stroke than those who visit once a week. “Sauna may be a new way to reduce cardiovascular risk,” said lead researcher Jari Laukkanen, a cardiologist and professor at the University of Eastern Finland. “It is a kind of third factor in addition to diet and exercise.”
But be aware of the risks. Saunas are superheated. Drinking water is fine but not alcohol; consumption of alcohol has led to sauna and post-sauna accidents. And while there’s little evidence associating a chilly plunge or shower with heart attack or arrhythmia, experts generally advise against a cold shock.
As with any exercise routine, start slow, with maybe just a few minutes of heat exposure for your first sauna. Increase sauna time gradually