Sauna exposure leads to improved arterial compliance: Findings from a non-randomised experimental study

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Abstract

Background

Heat therapy has been suggested to improve cardiovascular function. However, the effects of hot sauna exposure on arterial compliance and the dynamics of blood flow and pressure have not been well documented. Thus, we investigated the short-term effects of sauna bathing on arterial stiffness and haemodynamics.

Design

The design was an experimental non-randomised study.

Methods

There were 102 asymptomatic participants (mean age, 51.9 years) who had at least one cardiovascular risk factor. Participants were exposed to a single sauna session (duration: 30 min; temperature: 73°C; humidity: 10–20%). Pulse wave velocity, augmentation index, heart rate, blood pressure, mean arterial pressure, pulse pressure, augmented pressure and left ventricular ejection time were assessed before, immediately after, and 30 min after a single sauna session.

Results

Sauna bathing led to reductions in pulse wave velocity, blood pressure, mean arterial pressure and left ventricular ejection time. Mean pulse wave velocity value before sauna was 9.8 m/s and decreased to 8.6 m/s immediately after sauna bathing (p < 0.001 for difference), and was 9.0 m/s after the 30-minute recovery period (p < 0.001 for analysis of variance). Systolic blood pressure was 137 mm Hg before sauna bathing, decreasing to 130 mm Hg after sauna (p < 0.001), which remained sustained during the 30-minute recovery phase (p < 0.001 for analysis of variance). After a single sauna session, diastolic blood pressure decreased from 82 to 75 mm Hg, mean arterial pressure from 99.4 to 93.6 mm Hg and left ventricular ejection time from 307 to 278 m/s (p < 0.001 for all differences). Pulse pressure was 42.7 mm Hg before the sauna, 44.9 mm Hg immediately after the sauna, and reduced to 39.3 mm Hg after 30-minutes recovery (p < 0.001 for analysis of variance). Heart rate increased from 65 to 81 beats/min post-sauna (p < 0.001); there were no significant changes for augmented pressure and pulse pressure amplification.

Conclusion

This study shows that pulse wave velocity, systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, mean arterial pressure, left ventricular ejection time and diastolic time decreased immediately after a 30-minute sauna session. Decreases in systolic blood pressure and left ventricular ejection time were sustained during the 30-minute recovery phase.

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