There is evidence that sauna can improve your heart health. A 2015 study of 2,315 middle-aged Finnish men found that increased sauna use reduced the risk of sudden cardiac death, coronary heart disease, fatal cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality. The study had an impressive followup of more than 20 years, so you can take those conclusions to the bank. I am tempted to say the more you use a sauna, the longer you will live.
Sauna Improves Health…
A 2015 posting on the Harvard Health Blog summarized the relationship of sauna to heart health when it quoted Dr. Thomas H. Lee, founder of the Harvard Heart Letter: “The cardiovascular effects of sauna have been well documented in the past. It lowers blood pressure, and there is every reason to believe that its effects are good for blood vessels.”
The Finnish study began with baseline examinations dating from 1984. Far infrared sauna (FIRS) was only invented in 1965, and the Finns don’t even consider FIRS real sauna. So infrared sauna likely had no role in the 2015 study. But the evidence indicates FIRS is just as good at supporting cardiovascular health as conventional sauna. A 2009 summary of the published evidence, for example, found “limited moderate evidence supporting FIRS efficacy in normalizing blood pressure and treating congestive heart failure.” Limited moderate evidence doesn’t sound like much, but it’s really pretty good when it comes to clinical studies.
…But Probably Doesn’t Increase Fitness
Because sitting in a sauna raises your heart rate and makes you sweat, it seems like exercise, and there are people who think that because of these effects, it improves fitness. But the same sort of reasoning is at work in sympathetic magic.
It’s just not possible to increase fitness by sitting, even sitting in an infrared sauna. You increase fitness by exercising at your threshold heart rate. Your threshold heart rate is 5-15 beats per minute below the heart rate at which your breathing becomes labored (which is known as your anaerobic threshold, or AT). Your threshold heart rate is individual to you and to the particular sport you’re training for. Training at your threshold heart rate should, over time, cause your AT to increase, which in turn makes your threshold heart rate increase — a sign of increasing fitness.
There is a place for sauna in your fitness program, however. It can help in your recovery from workouts. Improvements in your fitness take place during the recovery between exercise sessions. It’s important for you to relax and heal in the recovery phase, and infrared sauna is a great way to do that. Sitting in a warm cabinet is down time, and infrared sauna is much easier to take than conventional sauna because it heats you rather than heating the air around you. Take it from me: the heat of an infrared sauna will relax you.
The Bottom Line on Sauna
On the other hand, there is no denying that infrared sauna can also help people with heart conditions. And that may mean that it improves the cardiovascular health of people who aren’t heart patients as well. So you can incorporate infrared sauna as a recovery strategy in a training program, or you can just use it to control blood pressure and strengthen blood vessels. Either way, it’s likely to help you have a longer, heart-healthier life. Book an infrared sauna session today.