Infrared saunas are well known for their many health benefits in relation to detoxification and overall health, but did you know that saunas can also play a significant role in cardiovascular health? In fact, infrared saunas have quite a reputation among medical professionals and researchers.
Infrared Saunas and Cardiovascular Health
Researchers have determined that sauna use will increase the cardiac workload in much the same way as a brisk walk. This can be particularly beneficial to individuals who have medical conditions that require a sedentary lifestyle.
In 1981, the American Medical Association reported that using an infrared sauna on a regular basis "may be as effective as a means of cardiovascular conditioning and burning calories as regular exercise."
Saunas create thermal stress, which is simply stress on our body due to the increased temperature. The infrared rays penetrate deeply into our body's tissues. Our internal organs and muscular tissues become warm, and our body's natural reaction is to increase our heart rate and cool itself back down to it's normal temperature.
Our heart can increase as much as double the rate of our resting heart rate, thus increasing our cardiac output and metabolic rate. This increased heart rate creates what is called passive cardiovascular conditioning, which is a fancy way of saying you're exercising your heart without physical activity.
NASA even conducted extensive research in the early 1980's, and determined that: "Infrared stimulation of cardiovascular function would be the ideal way to maintain cardiovascular conditioning in American astronauts during long space flights."
When our muscles become warm and our heart rate increases, our body begins to increase the amount of blood flowing through our veins and arteries.
Our capillaries dilate allowing an increased level of blood to flow, which also improves our circulation. Our blood becomes oxygen rich, and nourishes our tissues with healing nutrients.
When our circulation improves inflammation is reduced, and our body can more rapidly repair and heal itself.
Because our heart is getting a gentle workout during a sauna, our circulatory system responds by dilating the capillaries which provides less resistance for our blood to flow. In fact, our blood flow can increase up to 13 quarts per minute! As much as double our normal rate of 5 to 7 quarts.
A number of studies have been conducted showing that regular use of an infrared sauna could significantly lower blood pressure. There's also been evidence to suggest that sauna use can help individuals whose blood pressure is too low.
When an infrared sauna is used on a regular basis, it's possible to train and strengthen your heart muscles, and thus improve your cardiovascular output.
There's often little change in the systolic pressure, the first and largest number in a blood pressure reading. Systolic refers to the measurement of pressure within the arteries when the heart beats.
However, the second and lower number, the diastolic pressure, often decreases. The diastolic pressure measures the heart muscle between heart beats. This is when the heart is resting and refilling with blood.
Dr. Thomas H. Lee, the founding editor of the Harvard Heart Letter, wrote the "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."
"Normally, there is a subtle variability between heartbeats. When there is more variability in the beat-to-beat rhythm, your heart and nervous system are healthier. The least healthy heart rhythm has the least variability - a flat line. However, when the autonomic nervous system is in chronic stress mode, the heartbeat becomes less variable. Infrared saunas relax the body and mind, reduce autonomic nervous stimulation, and thus improve HRV."
There are no shortage of studies that show infrared saunas are an effective form of treatment for many types of heart disease, and that they help improve overall cardiovascular health.
However, its important to remember that a sauna works best when its part of a healthy lifestyle. By eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting adequate sleep, you'll put yourself in a position to get the most from your sauna.