BY ALEX GARDNER, APRIL
Working up a sweat can help your heart—even if you never move a muscle. Spending
time in a sauna can slash your risk of fatal heart events, according to new
research from Finland.
In the study, men who used a sauna 4 to 7 times per week were 50 percent less
likely to die from cardiovascular disease than guys who limited their sauna time
to once a week. (Yes, they had to limit themselves
to one sauna a week. Remember: They’re Finnish!)
The frequent sauna-goers were also 63 percent less likely to experience sudden
Plus, men who spent the most time sweating it out experienced an even greater
benefit: Those whose sessions spanned more than 19 minutes each were the least
likely to die from those deadly heart events during the following 20 years.
Saunas are often found in gyms, so it seems like guys who hit them frequently
would also be working out more often—which is obviously helpful to the heart.
But when crunching the numbers, the researchers took the participants’ physical
fitness and level of activity into account to make sure they weren’t skewing the
results. And after adjusting for those factors, the findings still show that
saunas may truly be heart-helpful, says study author Jari Laukkanen, M.D., Ph.D.
So how is the heat actually protecting our hearts? It’s basically giving our
tickers a workout.
As your body temp rises, so does your heart rate, says Dr. Laukkanen. In fact,
your heart may beat as fast when you’re enjoying a sauna as it does during a
moderate intensity workout—typically hitting somewhere between 100 to 150 beats
What’s more, saunas may help improve your endothelial function, which is the
ability of specific parts of your heart and blood vessels to widen and
constrict. This improves blood flow, potentially leading to fewer harmful heart
The saunas in the study were hot and dry, with an average temperature reaching
174 degrees Fahrenheit. More research needs to be done on whether putting
yourself in other hot places—like steam rooms or hot tubs—will give your body
the same boost, says Dr. Laukkanen.
While the results from this study are promising, you definitely shouldn’t make a
trip to the sauna your only sweat session: It won’t replace an actual exercise
program and healthy-eating regimen, he says. (You’re welcome for the news
Instead, just incorporate some sauna time into your established exercise
routine, when possible. And make sure to pound some fluids before and after
sweating it out to combat dehydration.
Healthy guys should be risk-free trying a sauna, but if you’ve had a heart
attack in the recent past or currently have some kind of illness, you may want
to rethink the heat room, says Dr. Laukkanen. Talk to your doctor first.