ShareThis Page

Saunas may help reduce risk of high blood pressure

Ben Schmitt
| Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
A study of middle-aged Finnish men found spending time in a sauna helped reduce the risk of high blood pressure.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
A study of middle-aged Finnish men found spending time in a sauna helped reduce the risk of high blood pressure.

Hanging out in the warmth of a sauna several times a week could help reduce the risk of high blood pressure, a new study shows.

The study, to be published in the November issue of the American Journal of Hypertension , included 1,621 middle-aged Finnish men with normal blood pressure who were followed for an average of 22 years.

Those who took to the sauna four to seven times a week for about 19 minutes each visit, reduced their risk of high blood pressure by nearly 50 percent, compared to those who visited just once a week.

Researchers hypothesized the heat of the sauna caused blood vessels to widen, or dilate, easing blood flow and thereby decreasing blood pressure.

“It's definitely an interesting study,” says Dr. Matthew Muldoon, clinical director of the Heart and Vascular Institute of UPMC. “It suggests that repeated heat exposure in a sauna might have lasting benefits.”

Sweating also removes fluid from the body, serving as a natural diuretic, Muldoon says.

“Many blood pressure medications work by dilating blood vessels or getting rid of fluid,” he says.

The study only included men with normal blood pressure, who visited a sauna at least once a week. Over the two decades, about 16 percent of those men developed high blood pressure, defined as levels higher than 140/90 mm.

About 75 million adults in the United States have high blood pressure, or hypertension, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hypertension 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 United States.

The study found the risk of developing high blood pressure decreased by 24 percent for men who went to a sauna two to three times a week, and by 46 percent for men who went took four to seven times a week, compared to once-a-week saunagoers.

Dr. Srinivas Murali, an Allegheny Health Network cardiologist, is intrigued by the findings.

“Obviously this needs to be validated in larger studies,” he says. “We need more answers before some of these things can be widely recommended as treatment for patients.”

He agreed that heat and sweating play key roles in dilating blood vessels and possibly reducing cardiovascular risks. The sauna temperatures in the study ranged from 176 to 212 degrees.

“This concept has certainly been talked about for the past several years,” Murali says.

The study adjusted for factors that included body mass index, alcohol consumption, resting heart rate, smoking, family history of hypertension and other variables.

Besides medication when needed, doctors recommend a healthy diet, regular exercise and weight control as ways to prevent or manage high blood pressure.

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991, bschmitt@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Bencschmitt.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.