Clearlight would like to remind users that this should not be taken as direct medical advice, and you should always consult a licensed health practitioner before making any significant changes to your lifestyle or existing pain treatment regimen. In the blog post, we referred to a clinical study that used a cabin sauna and measured its temperature to demonstrate the practical applications of using the sauna and the outcomes that were observed during the experiment. It is important to note that the benefits are not derived from the temperature of the sauna cabin itself, but rather from the increase in the body's core temperature, and the cabin temperature serves only as a means to raise the body temperature in a controlled manner for the purposes of the study. This fact is supported by peer-reviewed studies that outline specific requirements for duration, frequency and cabin temperature for the safe and effective use of a sauna.
Spending time in a sauna, especially an infrared sauna, has gained an extremely impressive track record in the last decade. Lots of research has emerged on the relationship between saunas and heart and blood vessel health. From a broader perspective though, you may know that the infrared sauna health benefits are extremely impressive. In the past, I’ve written several blog posts on infrared sauna and heart health benefits. Examples include:
In this blog post, I’ll take you through more of the science on infrared saunas and heart health. We’ll answer the very important question of “how long should you sauna for heart health?” I’ll break down much of the research into easy to understand terms on this topic. I’ll also answer some frequently asked questions such as who should avoid infrared saunas due to side-effect and what the best infrared saunas for heart health are. Let’s begin with the beginning though:
A Problem Of Epic Proportions: Why Cardiovascular Disease Matters So Much
Cardiovascular - or heart and blood vessel disease - is a worldwide problem of epic proportions (1; 2; 3; 4). Ischemic heart disease, where the heart receives insufficient oxygen and can undergo a heart attack, and stroke are the main worst outcomes here. Strokes, heart attacks, and other “cardiovascular events” lead to lots of disability every year. In most countries, heart disease is also a main if not the main cause of mortality. More than 500 million people suffer from heart disease worldwide.
Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to lower your risk of getting heart and blood vessel disease. Such strategies include smoking as little as possible, limiting alcoholic consumptions to 1-2 glasses per day, staying active, lowering stress, normalising blood glucose and cholesterol, and to prevent yourself from becoming overweight and especially obese.
Fortunately, since the last decade, lots of research has emerged on saunas and cardiovascular risk factors. It turns out that (infrared) saunas are a fantastic tool to lower your risk of getting bad outcomes, such as a heart attack or stroke. Let’s explore these studies:
Saunas And Cardiovascular Risk
I hope I didn’t make you too scared. So let’s switch to some extremely positive news: Spending time in a sauna can dramatically lower your risk of having heart and blood vessel disease. The risk of bad outcomes such as ischemic heart disease and strokes also goes down big time. Many different studies have emerged on this topic in the last few years (5; 6; 7; 8; 9).
One Finnish study tracked men and women for 15 years and asked them about their sauna habits. After those 15 years, the participants were divided into groups that had used the sauna once per week, two to three times per week, and four to seven times per week. The outcome?
When compared to using the sauna once per week, the group that used the sauna two to three times per week had a 29% reduction in risk of dying of cardiovascular disease. And the group that used the sauna four to seven times per week had a whopping 70% reduced risk of dying of cardiovascular disease during that 15 year period.
Also, the more minutes per week the participants spent inside the sauna, the greater the reduction of dying of cardiovascular disease. This relationship was linear, meaning that more is better (up to a certain point, of course, as you want to quit when you’re exhausted). The good thing is also that the participants were middle aged. Most people don’t get cardiovascular issues until they’re in their forties and fifties. So, if you’re currently 40 years old or 70 years old, this extremely exciting research is applicable to you as well. And there’s more:
In another study, participants used a single sauna session. The researchers then monitored the blood pressure of the study participants. A traditional sauna was used, but only at 70 degrees Celsius, which isn’t even that hot. The result? Just a single 30-minute session lowers systolic blood pressure by seven points on average. For diastolic blood pressure that’s also seven points. After the sauna session, blood pressure slightly rises again but systolic blood pressure doesn’t fully recover. (Systolic blood pressure occurs when your heart is beating and the pressure on the vessels is highest. Diastolic blood pressure happens when your heart muscles are relaxed and pressure is lower.)
High blood pressure is an extremely important independent risk factor for heart disease, just like being overweight or having a low activity level in your daily life. And there’s more: Chronic stress is another independent risk factor for heart disease. Infrared saunas have a huge effect on the stress you’re experiencing. For instance, infrared saunas allow for the release of “endorphins”, which are natural opioids (10; 11; 12). Endorphins are natural painkillers that are also released when you’re running.
Just a 20 or 30 minute session of an infrared sauna will already give you that good feeling. Many people also sleep a lot better after spending time inside a sauna, further reducing stress. Hence, infrared saunas deal with one of the most important risk factors of cardiovascular disease - stress - through several mechanisms. You probably know whether you’re more susceptible to stress or not - and thus whether infrared saunas help you deal with cardiovascular disease.
A recent 2022 study showed that for the best results, you have to combine saunas and exercise (8). Exercise alone reduced body fat levels in the study, as you’d probably already expect. However, when the exercise was combined with saunas, there were far greater improvements in cardiovascular fitness, systolic blood pressure, and even cholesterol levels. These results were achieved with as little as a 15-minute sauna session after a workout. Next up, let’s consider a few mechanisms through which infrared saunas improve heart health big time:
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Biological Mechanisms For Saunas And Heart Plus Blood Vessel Health
I’ll now consider a few biological mechanisms by which infrared saunas improve heart and blood vessel health. I’ll list these biological mechanisms point by point:
Countering Oxidative Stress And Inflammation.
Both oxidative stress and inflammation play a big role in cardiovascular disease as common risk factors (13; 14; 15; 16; 17). Inflammation is a complex biological response to damage and oxidative stress is a byproduct of energy-production but can go haywire in the wrong circumstances. Both oxidative stress and inflammation are also lowered by spending time inside a sauna (18). A higher sauna frequency per week once again yields the best results here. Four to seven sauna sessions per week lower inflammation and oxidative stress far better than one session per week.
Improving Peripheral Blood Flow
Peripheral blood flow is the blood flow to the extremities (19; 20). When you’re spending time inside a sauna, you’ve probably noticed that your skin can become red. Blood flow to your lower arms and hands and lower extremities also massively improves because the body is trying to lose heat. And you’re starting to sweat for that purpose. The benefit of this mechanism is that it allows for a better delivery of nutrients to your cells, and removal of waste products. The so-called “microcirculation” also improves, which is the blood flow to the tiniest of blood vessels in your body (21). That microcirculation is the final step before there is an exchange of nutrients and debris between the blood and your cells.
More Supple Blood Vessels
The suppleness of blood vessels isalso called “endothelium-dependent dilatation” in scientific terms. Many people have stiffer blood vessels as they age. With cardiovascular disease, you often also have stiffer blood vessels. Too little nitric will often reach the blood vessels, making them stiffer than they should be. Fortunately, there’s ample evidence that infrared saunas have a very positive effect on endothelial function (22; 23; 24). More frequent sessions also offer better overall results. So once again, by frequently using an infrared sauna you’re countering yet another cardiovascular risk factor. The studies used 15 to 35 minute infrared sauna or regular sessions to achieve this result. So you don’t need to use a sauna for an hour a day to get this benefit.
Lower Arterial Stiffness
Your arteries can become more stiff too. The arteries are the big blood vessels that deliver the oxygen that’s just coming from the heart and lungs towards your organs. Arterial stiffness, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease are all tightly intertwined (25; 26; 27). Unsurprisingly, saunas can help big time for lowering arterial stiffness as well (28; 29; 30). The studies used 30-minute sauna sessions to lower arterial stiffness. Once again, you don’t need an hour of saunas per day to get good cardiovascular benefits.
By aiding detoxification you’re lowering the risk of heart disease dramatically. Toxins play a role in many diseases such as Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cancer, and also cardiovascular disease (31; 32). There are also lots of studies on detoxification available (33; 34; 35; 36; 37). Examples thereof are Bisphenol-A in plastics, phthalates, heavy metals such as arsenic and cadmium, and others. Many of these are directly linked to cardiovascular disease (38; 39; 40; 41; 42; 43; 44; 45; 46; 47). Some of these toxins are removed through your internal organ systems such as your liver, urinary system, and gastrointestinal tract. Others are preferably removed through sweat, and these include the BPA, phthalates, and some heavy metals.
The more you sweat, the more toxins you’ll remove. So a 10 or 15-minute infrared sauna session can already be very beneficial for heart health. Of course, longer sessions such as 30 or 40 minutes are even more beneficial. Make sure to shower with lukewarm water once in a while to remove the toxins from your skin. Towels to remove the sweat can also be used.
Lowering Blood Pressure
As you probably know, blood pressure is one of the most important risk factors for heart and blood vessel disease (48; 49; 50). Fortunately, lots of studies are available on blood pressure and sauna bathing. The effect is quite impressive, in fact:
One Finnish study followed a group of participants over a period of almost 25 years (51). The risk of hypertension was subsequently measured. The participants were once again divided into groups after the 25 year period was over. These groups included people who used a sauna once per week, two to three times per week, and four to seven times per week. The results? The group with two to three sauna sessions per week has a 24% reduced risk of hypertension (high blood pressure). With four to seven sessions, the risk reduced with a whopping 46%. The effects of saunas on hypertension alone are thus huge.
Usually, a traditional sauna was used with 30 to 40 minute sessions for lowering hypertension. Other studies have shown that combining exercise with saunas has an even stronger effect in lowering high blood pressure (52). Not all studies agree with this overall assessment though - one study shows that a 25-minute session can increase blood pressure temporarily (53). Over the long-term, however, it’s certain that saunas lower excessively high blood pressure.
Obesity, and to a lesser extent being overweight, both affect your cardiovascular disease risk (54; 55; 56; 57). 63% of the British population is currently overweight or obese (58). The great news is that infrared saunas burn many calories. On average, you burn about 700 kilocalories for spending one hour in a sauna (59). That’s 350 kilocalories per half hour. And, just burning 350 kilocalories extra per day is probably sufficient from people becoming overweight or obese over time. So just spending 30 minutes per day inside a sauna burn sufficient calories to reduce cardiovascular risk dramatically.
What Infrared Sauna Time Is Best For Heart Health
Everybody is different. So there’s no one size fits all timing that works universally. Me and others at Clearlight® Saunas have received extensive feedback from many customers on what timing works best from them. Here’s the deal: Generally, mornings and afternoons work great. Evenings are a bit more complicated for some people as the infrared light can be very activating to the system for them. You’ll have to find out about whether you respond well or not with evening sessions through trial and error.
Usually, the people who respond really well to saunas in the evening also respond really well to hot showers. The reason for this is that you’re having an exaggerated peak in body temperature in the evening, which makes the body feel more cooled down once you’re stepping into bed. Cool temperatures around bedtime are really important for sleep quality (60; 61).
Also, in our own weight loss study, it was shown that an afternoon session burned the most calories. So that timing is optimal from the perspective of the cardiovascular risk factor of being overweight or obese. In summary, every timing will do well but you’ll have to experiment with the evening sessions as it’s not for everyone.
Saunas And Infrared Saunas For Heart Health Frequently Asked Questions
Below I’ll consider some of the most important question people ask me about using an infrared sauna for improving heart and blood vessel health:
Infrared Saunas Versus Traditional Saunas For Heart Health
Traditional saunas use hot air to heat your body. Infrared saunas use infrared light that penetrates your skin to heat up your body. The heating mechanism is thus slightly different. Both options are great for heart health but I prefer infrared saunas for a few reasons:
Infrared saunas are easier on the system, especially if you have a Clearlight® Sauna. Our saunas don’t heat the head, which is the weakest link when your goal is to let your body temperature rise. The air temperatures in infrared saunas don’t become as hot either making breathing much more comfortable.
Infrared has many biological effects on your cells (62; 63). These effects aren’t completely understood yet. But suffice to say that far infrared, for instance, directly “stimulates cells and tissue”. So the light that enters the body creates effects above and beyond just the effects of heating that you’d get from a traditional sauna.
Infrared saunas are generally perceived to be less stressful and more calming. So if you’ve got heart disease that’s very much progressed you’ve got an easier time using an infrared sauna. Let’s say you’ve had a stroke two years ago. In that case, a gentle infrared sauna experience at 50 degrees Celsius is very different from a 90-degree Finnish sauna.
And, as you’ve already read above, many studies show that a 15-25 minute session at the minimum already creates improved outcomes for cardiovascular disease.
If You Have Cardiovascular Disease Can You Use A Sauna?
Yes, you can use a sauna if you’ve got cardiovascular disease. However, you should always talk to your physician first to ensure that you’re able to ask for more temporary exertion of your heart, which will happen. And, especially if you’ve had a stroke or a heart attack in the past, it’s extremely important that you consult your physician first.
Once you’ve got the green light from your physician, my recommendation is to build up your exposure slowly. For instance, use an infrared sauna for 10-15 minutes per day first during the first few weeks and monitor how you’re recovering. If you’re doing well, you can slowly increase your exposure.
For the best results for heart health, I recommend working up to a 30-40 minute session a few times per week. And if you ever feel symptoms of heart disease, such as pain on the chest, nausea, shortness of breath, or others, quit your session and talk to your physician.
Are Infrared Saunas Damaging To The Heart?
Infrared saunas aren’t damaging to the heart when they’re used properly. An analogy with exercise is great to understand that principle. In the same way you can use exercise to improve your health but also do it improperly or abuse it, infrared saunas are the same.
If you’ve got health issues, you’d never start exercising 5 times per week for 2 hours a day if you haven’t exercised in decades. In that case, your risk of injury or worse would be significant. Infrared saunas are the same - if you start slow and build exposure gradually then you’ll very much improve many aspects of your cardiovascular system over time.
Sauna Contraindications - Who Should Avoid Using Saunas With Cardiovascular Disease And In Other Situations?
Only in a few instances do I recommend not to use an infrared sauna. First, of course, for the people with heart disease, if you have any acute symptoms or problems, in no circumstance use an infrared sauna. And if you’re recovering from a “cardiovascular event”, such as ischemic heart disease or a stroke then you’ll always have to talk to your physician about whether you can exert your heart in a sauna. Spending time inside a sauna raises your heart rate, which means you’re exerting yourself more than you’d do if you were sitting on the couch, so to speak.
Secondly, in some circumstances spending time in the sauna is dangerous as well. These include if you’ve got a current serious medical condition or symptom, if you’re intoxicated with alcohol, if you’ve got poor or no heat tolerance, if you’re dehydrated or don’t have ingested sufficient salt in your diet lately, and if you’ve got a fever.
And, as I’ve mentioned before, several reasons exist why I recommend an infrared sauna:
Infrared saunas are easier on the system
Infrared light has unique health benefits that heat doesn’t have
Infrared light exposure by itself is perceived as very relaxing
How Long Until Saunas Improve Blood Pressure?
The studies I’ve quoted before show that saunas improve blood pressure almost immediately after a session - within a 24-hour period. However, the effect of a single session is extremely small - you’ll thus have build an infrared sauna habit over time. The people who get the best results with traditional saunas and infrared saunas use four sessions or more each week. These sessions need to last at least 30 minutes for the best results. Studies show that over time, the people who use more than four sauna sessions per week, almost have half the risk of hypertension. The potential health benefits of an infrared sauna are therefore extremely significant in helping you prevent cardiovascular disease.