Relaxing in a hot sauna may good for the heart, not only feel good — it might affect your heart and blood vessels in ways that are similar to moderate exercise.
That’s the finding of a new study that tested the effects of a 30-minute sauna session. The researchers say their results may help explain why people who regularly use saunas tend to have a decreased risk for heart disease and even dementia.
On average, the study found, sauna users saw a drop in blood pressure and artery “stiffness” immediately after their heat bath. They also showed an increase in heart rate that was similar to the effect from moderate exercise.
It’s not fully clear why, but the sauna heat is “one major factor,” said researcher Tanjaniina Laukkanen, of the University of Eastern Finland, in Kuopio.
For one, heat generates sweating: “That’s like a natural diuretic effect — lowering blood pressure and decreasing the work load of the heart,” Laukkanen explained.
On top of that, the researcher added, saunas simply help people relax.
The study, which involved 102 middle-aged adults, was conducted in Finland — where “sauna bathing” originated and remains ubiquitous.
In a study last year, Laukkanen’s team found that men who often used saunas had lower rates of heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease than did those who used saunas less often.
But that did not prove the sauna sessions deserved the credit.
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