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Sauna and Cardiovascular Health project analyses health benefits of sauna bathing

Over the past couple of years, scientists have shown that sauna bathing is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases, memory disorders and hypertension. These pioneering findings were obtained in the population-based Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study, KIHD, carried out at the University of Eastern Finland.

In the currently ongoing Sauna and Cardiovascular Health project, on the other hand, scientists use experimental settings to further analyse the mechanisms through which sauna bathing protects the human body. They are focusing on the effects of 30-minute sauna bathing on vascular compliance, autonomic nervous system function, blood pressure and blood-derived biomarkers.

A healthy lifestyle is the most important tool for promoting cardiovascular health and well-being, as well as for maintaining working and functional capacity. Research indicates that regular physical exercise and a healthy lifestyle promote cardiovascular health and prevent disease, but not all of the risk and protective factors are yet known. According to the population-based KIHD Study, regular sauna bathing reduces cardiac diseases and protects against sudden cardiac death. However, research data from experimental settings relating to the physiological mechanisms of sauna bathing that promote cardiac health is also needed.

The experiments carried out in the Sauna and Cardiovascular Health project provide new insight into changes that take place in the human body during and after having a sauna. The objective is to analyse the role of vascular compliance, increased heart rate variability and reduced blood pressure in the health benefits caused by sauna bathing.  Vascular compliance will be measured from the carotid and femoral artery before sauna, right after sauna, and after 30 minutes of recovery. Changes in blood pressure and blood biomarkers are also measured during the experiment. The study subjects will also be wearing a recoding heart rate monitor. Heart rate variability is an indicator of changes taking place in the autonomic nervous system. For instance, stress is associated with decreased heart rate variability, which earlier research has linked with an increased risk of fatal cardiac events.

The study population comprises 100 customers of the Pihlajalinna health centre. The mean age of the study population is 51 years. The study participants’ background information was collected by extensive surveys and interviews, and their physical fitness was analysed by an exercise test.   

The study is funded by the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation,Tekes, and it is carried out by a multidisciplinary and internationally networked research group at the University of Eastern Finland. The project partners are Harvia Ltd., Velha Ltd., Pihlajalinna, Fintravel Ltd. and the Finnish Sauna Culture Association.

For further information, please contact:

Professor, Cardiology Specialist Jari Laukkanen, University of Eastern Finland, tel. +358 50 5053013 email: jariantero.laukkanen@uef.fi

Director of Research and Product Development Timo Harvia, Harvia Ltd. tel. +358 40 5917153 email: timo.harvia@harvia.fi
Regional Director Sanna Poikonen, Pihlajalinna, tel. +358 400 902 500. email: sanna.poikonen@pihlajalinna.fi

Links to original publications:

Laukkanen T, Khan H, Zaccardi F, Laukkanen JA. Association Between Sauna Bathing and Fatal Cardiovascular and All-Cause Mortality Events. JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(4):542-548. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8187 http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2130724

Laukkanen T, Kunutsor S, Kauhanen J, Laukkanen JA. Sauna bathing is inversely associated with dementia and Alzheimer's disease in middle-aged Finnish men. Age and Ageing, Volume 46, Issue 2, 1 March 2017, Pages 245–249 https://doi.org/10.1093/ageing/afw212

Zaccardi F, Laukkanen T, Willeit P, Kunutsor SK, Kauhanen J, Laukkanen JA. Sauna Bathing and Incident Hypertension: A Prospective Cohort Study. Am J Hypertens. 2017 Jun 13. doi: 10.1093/ajh/hpx102. [Epub ahead of print] https://doi.org/10.1093/ajh/hpx102