Researchers suggest that regular sauna use could lower men’s risk of high blood pressure.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, occurs when the force of blood that flows through the arteries becomes too high.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 75 million adults in the United States have high blood pressure.
It is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, and in 2014, high blood pressure was a main or contributing cause of death for more than 410,000 people in the U.S.
Following a healthful diet, getting regular exercise, and managing weight are just some of the strategies that can help to prevent or manage high blood pressure.
The new study suggests that for men, adding sauna bathing to their weekly routine may also help to lower the risk of this potentially harmful condition.
Study co-author Dr. Francesco Zaccardi, of the Department of Medicine at the University of Eastern Finland, and colleagues recently reported their findings in the American Journal of Hypertension.
Sauna bathing and blood pressure
In a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2015, Dr. Zaccardi and colleagues linked regular sauna use with a reduced risk of cardiovascular death.
For their new study, the researchers sought to determine whether a reduction in high blood pressure as a result of sauna use could be an underlying mechanism for their previous results.
To reach their findings, the team analyzed the data of 1,621 men aged 42 to 60 years who were involved in the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study.
Over a median 24.7 years of follow-up, the team monitored the development of high blood pressure among participants, defined as having a blood pressure over 140/90 millimeters of mercury.
The sauna bathing habits of subjects were also assessed, and they were divided into three groups based on their frequency of sauna use: one sauna session per week, two to three sessions each week, and four to seven sessions per week.
Hypertension risk up to 46 percent lower
During follow-up, a total of 251 men developed high blood pressure. Compared with men who had just one sauna bathing session per week, men who had two to three sessions every week were found to have a 24 percent lower risk of developing high blood pressure.
Also, the hypertension risk was 46 percent lower for men who had four to seven sauna sessions weekly.
The team suggests a number of mechanisms behind their findings. They note that the increase in body temperature during sauna bathing can cause blood vessels to dilate, which can increase blood flow.
Additionally, they explain that regular sauna use can improve the function of the endothelium – the tissue that lines the inside of blood vessels – which can improve blood pressure.
While further studies are now needed to determine how sauna use impacts cardiovascular function, Dr. Zaccardi and team believe that their findings provide some insight.
“Regular sauna bathing is associated with reduced risk of hypertension, which may be a mechanism underlying the decreased cardiovascular risk associated with sauna use.”