In 2023, the American Heart Association highlighted a startling statistic: over 122 million Americans aged 20 and above are battling high blood pressure, a significant precursor to heart disease and stroke. Of that 122 million, high blood pressure is estimated to contribute to roughly half a million deaths each year.
With such a widespread impact, it's crucial to explore all avenues of mitigation. One question that frequently emerges in this context is, "Do saunas lower blood pressure?"
Saunas, renowned for their myriad health benefits, have recently become the subject of interest for their role in supporting heart health. This article explores the fundamentals of high blood blood pressure—from what causes it to the detrimental effects if left unmanaged—and how saunas may help regulate it.
What is Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure is the force exerted by the blood against the walls of the arteries. It is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and is presented as two readings: systolic (the higher number) representing the pressure when the heart beats, and diastolic (the lower number) representing the pressure when the heart is at rest between beats. However, when these numbers rise beyond the normal range, we enter the realm of high blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension.
What is High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure is a condition characterized by consistently elevated force of blood against the artery walls. Specifically, it is when the systolic pressure exceeds 130mm Hg, or the diastolic pressure goes beyond 80mm Hg. Over time, this heightened pressure can harm the heart, leading to conditions like coronary artery disease, heart attacks, and heart failure. It can also strain blood vessels, causing them to form aneurysms that can be life-threatening if they burst.
Not only the heart is at risk. Hypertension also increases the likelihood of strokes, mini-strokes, and dementia. The kidneys, essential for waste filtration, can lose their efficiency, possibly resulting in kidney failure. Vision may be affected, leading to conditions such as retinopathy, choroidopathy, and optic neuropathy.
Additionally, high blood pressure can cause sexual dysfunctions and interfere with sleep, leading to disorders like sleep apnea. In short: unchecked high blood pressure can adversely affect many facets of our health.
What Causes High Blood Pressure?
Several factors, both genetic and lifestyle-related, contribute to its onset, including a high-salt diet, obesity, lack of physical activity, excessive alcohol consumption, stress, and heredity, among others. Recognizing these causes and understanding the mechanics of blood pressure are crucial first steps in addressing and controlling hypertension.
Do Saunas Lower Blood Pressure?
While many of us are familiar with the traditional measures to manage blood pressure—like regular exercise, a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, and effective stress management—there's an intriguing question arising: Can sauna help lower blood pressure?
The relationship between sauna use and blood pressure is gaining scientific traction. Preliminary findings indicate that even a single session in a traditional Finnish sauna can positively affect blood pressure and enhance arterial health.
Digging deeper, the Kuopio Ischemic Heart Disease Risk Factor (KIHD) Study—a comprehensive cohort study involving over 2,300 middle-aged men from eastern Finland—shed significant light on this subject.
Results from the KIHD study underscored the potency of saunas in blood pressure management. Participants who embraced sauna sessions two to three times weekly saw a 24% decline in hypertension risk and a 27% dip in the likelihood of succumbing to cardiovascular ailments.
Moreover, the data revealed an intriguing pattern: those indulging in saunas four to seven times weekly had a 46% diminished risk of developing high blood pressure, compared to occasional users. They were also 50% less prone to cardiovascular-related fatalities. Remarkably, these correlations remained consistent, even after adjusting for variables like alcohol consumption, socio-economic indicators, and overall cardiorespiratory health.
Let's explore further into benefits of using the sauna for high blood pressure:
Sauna for Blood Pressure: What are the Benefits?
1. Immediate Post-Sauna Reduction in Blood Pressure Levels
Recent studies highlight the immediate heart health benefits of saunas. In an experiment with 102 participants, mainly around the age of 52 and each with at least one cardiovascular risk, the impact of a 30-minute sauna session at a cozy 73°C (about 163°F) with 10-20% humidity was examined. The findings were quite positive: there was a marked improvement in arterial flexibility, a key indicator of heart health.
Measurements showed a decrease in arterial stiffness from 9.8 m/s before the sauna to 8.6 m/s afterward. Furthermore, blood pressure levels fell, with the systolic average decreasing from 137 mmHg to 130 mmHg and diastolic dropping from 82 mmHg to 75 mmHg. Impressively, even 30 minutes post-sauna, the systolic blood pressure remained lower than its initial level.
2. Decreased Inflammation
Chronic inflammation can elevate the risk of high blood pressure, making its management vital for maintaining cardiovascular health. Various lifestyle choices, from excessive alcohol consumption and smoking to irregular sleep patterns and a diet high in processed foods, can amplify inflammation, thereby indirectly contributing to the surge in blood pressure levels.
Using the sauna as a therapeutic intervention offers a promising approach. This robust form of deliberate heat exposure, through the balancing of immune responses, reduction of CRP levels, and activation of Nrf2, has been linked to notable anti-inflammatory effects, which in turn can help lower blood pressure.
RELATED: Sauna for Inflammation
3. Reduced Stress
Stress can prompt a brief increase in blood pressure due to the body's natural response of releasing hormones that accelerate the heart rate and narrow blood vessels. While there's ongoing debate about whether prolonged stress directly results in sustained high blood pressure, it's clear that unhealthy reactions to stress, such as excessive alcohol consumption, overeating, and sedentariness, can elevate the risk. Moreover, continuous stress can lead to conditions like anxiety and depression, putting additional strain on the heart.
Saunas offer a holistic approach to alleviating these concerns. Regular sauna sessions are known to reduce cortisol levels, the body’s “stress hormone.” Additionally, saunas trigger the release of our “feel good” chemicals—endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine—along with triggering the release of melatonin, a hormone essential for quality sleep. By integrating regular sauna use into one's routine, it becomes a potent tool for addressing stress and its potential cardiovascular implications.
RELATED: Sauna for Stress
High blood pressure is more than a fringe concern; with over 122 million Americans diagnosed and nearly half a million dying from related complications, it’s a public health challenge. Factors like poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, and stress only exacerbate its onset, threatening not only quality of life but also lifespan.
Fortunately, while traditional methods of managing this ailment remain crucial, saunas have surfaced as an unexpected ally in this fight. They not only contribute directly to improved cardiovascular health but also indirectly combat high blood pressure by reducing inflammation, alleviating stress, and lowering blood pressure itself. Embracing the combined approach of lifestyle changes, including the adoption of regular sauna sessions, may offer a natural solution to help safeguard health now and in the future.
Take Control of Your Heart Health with Sweat Tent
For those looking to reap the robust health benefits of a classic Finnish sauna without breaking the bank or sacrificing ease, SweatTent has you covered. As the world’s most powerful, portable, and affordable home sauna tent, the SweatTent guarantees that a powerful sauna session is always within reach, helping you unlock your healthiest self anytime, anywhere.
To learn more about the various health benefits of saunas for health and longevity, visit the blog. See SweatTent in action on Instagram (@sweattents), or share your own experiences with us using the hashtag #sweattent
Medical disclaimer: This post is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult with your doctor before adding sauna bathing to your health and wellness routine.