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Can Sauna Bathing Improve Cardiovascular Performance Or Serve As a Substitute To Cardiovascular Workouts?

Whether you are a high performance athlete or experiencing a debilitating condition that renders traditional cardiovascular workouts impossible, regular sauna bathing may significantly improve cardiovascular performance. 

If you have been sidelined by an injury, it doesn’t mean you need to stop working out the cardiovascular system.  In fact it turns out that regular sauna bathing can be a great substitute or addition to your normal cardio workout. 

You can find out why more and more people, both the famous celebrities and the rest of us, are turning to sauna bathing in lue of or in addition to traditional workout methods by understanding the basic relationship between passive sweating that happens during a sauna session, and the body’s natural mechanism to regulate temperature. 

How It Works

Why Regular Sauna Bathing Can Improve Cardiovascular Fitness: The Science Behind The Results

While many cultures have traditionally turned to sauna bathing and other forms of heat therapy for leisure and to improve overall health, the science is finally catching up to the multi-millennial long activity. Data revealed through the Mayo Clinic’s published journal on the health benefits of sauna bathing to treat a multitude of diseases is extensive:

“Emerging evidence suggests that beyond its use for pleasure, sauna bathing may be linked to several health benefits, which include reduction in the risk of vascular diseases such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and neurocognitive diseases; nonvascular conditions such as pulmonary diseases; mortality; as well as amelioration of conditions such as arthritis, headache, and flu. The beneficial effects of sauna bathing on these outcomes have been linked to its effect on circulatory, cardiovascular, and immune functions.” (1)

It may seem astounding that one activity could lead to such a vast myriad of health benefits, but when the basis of how intentional heat therapy affects the cardiovascular system at large it starts to make sense. 

Humans have a unique ability to regulate temperature through perspiration. It is not just the flooding of sweat over the skin that cools the body, but a long chain reaction of cardiovascular engagement that leads to the eventual sweat that heightens overall health.

In short, in order to reach the point at which the body begins to perspire the heart rate starts to elevate while the blood vessels dilate, this marriage of physiological activity is at the crux of cardiovascular fitness.

Unlike many other intensive forms of cardiovascular workouts, sauna bathing does not rely upon the engagement of the skeletal structure and muscles to be in motion in order to attain similar results on pulmonary and heart health. (1) This fact opens up the advantages of a strong cardiovascular system to portions of the population restricted by vigorous exercise, and also provides additional means to attaining prime cardiovascular fitness for elite level athletes. 

According to the Mayo Clinic’s article: Cardiovascular and Other Health Benefits of Sauna Bathing: A Review of the Evidence, “During a sauna session, the heart rate may increase from baseline up to 120 to 150 beats/min. There is no active function of skeletal muscles during sauna bathing, which is in contrast to the training response experienced during physical activity.” (1) 

As a person relaxes in a sauna their heart rate is increased and blood vessels are widened. By engaging the cardiovascular system while seated, a person may obtain many of the benefits that they would otherwise gain from cardiovascular exercise. 

In addition to improving cardiovascular performance, according to Harvard Medical’s journal is:

“The high temperatures in a warm tub or sauna cause your blood vessels to dilate, which lowers blood pressure,” says Dr. Adolph Hutter, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.” (2)

With a sauna set to a high temperature, the body will naturally begin to self regulate in temperature, this causes the heart rate to increase in order to begin the sweating process. A common myth surrounding sauna bathing and weight loss is that water that is lost during a sauna session causes weight reduction, but this is in fact only partially true and is short lasting. The real reason why sauna bathing causes weight loss is multiple reasons, one of which is the extensive engagement of the cardiovascular system as well as the impact on the autonomic nervous system. 

The option to engage in regular sauna bathing (at least three times a week), may be revolutionary for those who are not physically mobile, and provide a very real way to exercise the cardiovascular system. 

Furthermore, professional athletes who have been injured but must maintain their fitness, can turn to sauna bathing to keep up their cardiovascular fitness. Marlon Vera, or Chitto is a famous MMA fighter who depends upon his world class level of cardiovascular fitness. Recently, after experiencing an injury that sidelined him from engaging in his normal 30 plus mile runs several times a week, he stated on the Joe Rogan podcast that he was able to sauna everyday. His  results were astonishing, he did not lose any of his cardiovascular fitness during his down time from injury. (4)

Who Can Most Benefit From The Cardiovascular Benefits OF Sauna Bathing:

  • Adrenal Fatigue or Burnout
  • The Physically Disabled
  • The Injured Athlete
  • A Jump Start To Your Weight Loss Program

Adrenal Fatigue or Burnout affects many Americans as the collective pushes on through high stress living. Adrenal fatigue or burnout can present many symptoms, but a disappointing one is the lack of available energy for exercise. Often former elite level athletes will suffer from some kind of adrenal fatigue, and it can be devastating to lose personal fitness. The exciting fact about regular sauna bathing is that it does not require a huge outpouring of lactic acid or adrenal to get the job done for cardio fitness. 

In fact, those who live with adrenal burnout, can improve autonomic response, relax within the comfort and safety of a sauna while reaping the benefits of a cardiovascular workout.  All without engaging the adrenal glands leading to further depletion. 

The Physically Disabled who cannot engage in walking, running, biking, or swimming can still improve cardiovascular fitness without having to move the body. Some saunas can accommodate wheelchairs, although it may take some time to find the right sauna. It is not only possible, but totally feasible, for the physically disabled to begin a fitness routine without actually moving the body. 

The Injured Athlete whose scholarship or career lies in the balance of their ability to maintain a certain level of cardiovascular fitness can be devastated by an injury that is movement prohibited. A long distance runner who requires knee surgery does not need to lose months of cardiovascular training when they can turn to infrared sauna bathing as an alternative. When so much lies in the balance of personal fitness it is a great relief for professional athletes to know that it is possible to maintain cardiovascular fitness and heal lingering or sudden injury without high impact cardio workouts. 

A Jump Start To Your Weight Loss Program can be a few sauna sessions away. If an individual is dealing with obesity and cannot physically move easily, regular sauna bathing can begin the process of improving cardiovascular fitness, while remaining in a seated position to protect the joints and ligaments. 

For those looking to lose weight, feeling ashamed of their physical appearance can be a huge impediment to ‘working out’. If you are not comfortable with going to the gym or out for a run, you can start with sauna bathing for the first few weeks until you feel good enough in your own body to get out there and add to your routine. Shame surrounding body weight and appearance can be a significant prohibitive factor for some individuals to begin to find a healthy weight. This is why the shelter or a safe haven of a sauna can be a wonderful stepping stone and long term solution for such individuals. 

Regular Sauna Bathing Is An Excellent Way To Improve Or Maintain Cardiovascular Fitness

The great news is that there is a wide selection and varieties of saunas. You may choose a traditional sauna, steam room, or infrared sauna, and each style will do the trick to improve your cardiovascular system. Saunas range in price, and don’t have to break the bank to deliver the cardiovascular benefits. 

You do not need to let a physical disability, injury, or body shame stop you from achieving your cardiovascular fitness goals when sauna bathing is an option. Please feel free to reach out to one of our sauna experts with any questions you may have on cardiovascular fitness and sauna bathing!

Sources Cited:

  4. The Joe Rogan Experience MMA Show #117, Interview with Marlon Vera “Chito”

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