This May Be the Hottest Way to Lower Your Blood Pressure6 years ago | Hypertension
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Did you know that the word ‘sauna’ is of Finnish origin?
“Sauna use is deeply embedded in Finnish culture. A nation of 5.5 million people, Finland has as many saunas as television sets — around 3.3 million. Most of the saunas are in people’s homes, although they’re also standard amenities in offices and factories,” according to Harvard Health.
They are sometimes referred to as ‘the poor man’s pharmacy’ (probably because back in the old days, saunas were pretty much just heated man-made caves but still provided health benefits such as providing relief from congestion and sinus pressure).
There is actually a bit of science to making the perfect sauna.
“The modern sauna is a simple unpainted room with wooden walls and benches. A rock-filled electric heater keeps the temperature at about 90° at floor level and boosts it to about 185° at the top,” reports Harvard Health.
“Unlike Turkish baths, Finnish saunas are very dry. Humidity levels are just 10% to 20%. Water drains through the floor to keep things dry. In a good sauna, an efficient ventilation system exchanges the air 3 to 8 times an hour.”
We’ve actually previously discussed the potential benefits of sweating it out in a sauna. But what caught my attention the most regarding saunas and their health benefits, is their potential to improve heart health. Heart disease is reportedly the leading cause of death in both American men and women.
And according to a recent study conducted in Finland, frequent sauna use was associated with a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease (CVD) in men and women who were at least 50 years of age or older.
“There are several possible reasons why sauna use may decrease the risk of death due to CVD. Our research team has shown in previous studies that high sauna use is associated with lower blood pressure. Additionally, sauna use is known to trigger an increase in heart rate equal to that seen in low to moderate intensity physical exercise," said one of the lead authors of the study, in a report.
“The dry heat has profound effects on the body. Sweating begins almost immediately. The average person will lose a pint of sweat during a brief sauna. However, it evaporates so quickly in the dry air that a person may not realize how much he is perspiring. Skin temperature soars to about 104° within minutes, but internal body temperature rises more slowly. It usually stays below 100°,” says Harvard Health.
“Changes in body temperature are easy to understand, but the heart's responses to heat are even more important. The pulse rate jumps by 30% or more. As a result, the heart nearly doubles the amount of blood it pumps each minute.”
So it appears that the sauna may have similar benefits as a treadmill. If your heart nearly doubles the amount of blood it pumps each minute, your heart may be getting a good workout. Your heart is a muscle. And just like all other muscles in our bodies, it needs to be worked out. (However, I would not advise you replace the gym with a sauna).
The study in Finland found that those who spent over 45 minutes per week in a sauna overall had lower rates of death from cardiovascular disease.
One important factor to keep in mind is that “the very nature of the Finnish sauna is designed to reduce stress. The sauna has been a gathering place for family and friends for centuries. And sauna etiquette, which frowns upon swearing or discussing controversial topics while bathing, is instilled in Finns during childhood.”
Chronic stress has been linked to high blood pressure and other health issues. Perhaps Americans need to adopt sauna practices the way Finnish people do in order to take a break, disengage from news and phones and help with stress management.
But before you go bolting to the nearest sauna, take a few things into consideration:
- You cannot ‘out-sauna’ a bad diet. One of the best things you can do for heart health and lower your risk of health issues, like hypertension (high blood pressure), obesity and diabetes, is to eat healthily on a consistent basis. This means eating plenty of nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, lean proteins (like fish), whole grains and legumes, in order to get an adequate intake of essential nutrients for heart health such as potassium, magnesium and calcium.
- You still need physical activity. As mentioned, saunas should not be used to replace exercise, like resistance training and cardio. Exercise not only helps maintain a healthy weight and keep your heart healthy (by working out that muscle), but it may also greatly help with mental health. Just an hour of exercise a week may help keep depression away.
- Take your water with you. Be sure to hydrate before, during and after your sauna. Heat exposure and sweating will cause you to lose water and other important nutrients. “Prolonged heat stress promotes the loss of minerals, including sodium, potassium, magnesium, and iron, as well as ammonia and urea,” according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). After the sauna, replenish these nutrients with healthy snacks like a fruit smoothie.
It is important to note that the benefits of the sauna may be temporary. “Although saunas affect many parts of the body, most changes are brief and mild. For example, elevated scrotal temperatures reduce sperm production, but there is no evidence that regular saunas impair fertility,” according to Harvard Health.
Finally, if you are pregnant or have an existing heart condition, be sure to consult your doctor before you visit the sauna.
Enjoy your healthy life!
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