Previous research has found that heat exposure in sauna bathing has been positively associated with cardiovascular function. However, most studies have been fairly short (between two and four weeks) and have explored the response to heat therapy in athletes.
Longer-term studies on people who are not as physically active have been lacking.
Benefits of Sauna Bathing Post-Workout
In this new study, the research team studied adult volunteers between the ages of 30 and 64 who had ‘deskbound’ occupations and exercised less than 30 minutes per week.
All volunteers also had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, smoking, or a family history of coronary heart disease.
The volunteers were randomly placed into three groups:
- One group participated in the resistance and aerobic exercise thrice a week for 50 minutes.
One group participated in the resistance and aerobic exercise three times a week for 50 minutes each time, followed by a 15-minute sauna.
A control group did not participate in exercise or sauna bathing.
Sauna exposure began at 149º F and was increased by 41º F every two weeks. The participants were free to leave the sauna before 15 minutes if they were uncomfortable in the heat, but they completed each full sauna session.
After eight weeks of the intervention, the researchers found an increased maximum rate of oxygen consumptiona key marker of cardiorespiratory functionin both exercise groups compared with the control group.
More importantly, the sauna group showed greater increases in the maximum rate of oxygen consumption and decreases in total cholesterol and systolic blood pressure levels than the exercise-only group.
“This study opens up opportunities to investigate shorter bouts of regular exercise in conjunction with sauna use and lends support for regular sauna bathing as a possible therapeutic alternative, particularly for those with compromised exercise capacities. Sauna bathing is a safe and simple lifestyle modification, and steps should be taken to make it more accessible worldwide,” the researchers wrote.
“Sauna bathing could be effectively incorporated into a range of other compatible rehabilitation settings as well,” said Earric Lee, of the University of Jyväskylä, Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences in Finland, and corresponding author of the study.