In 2017, infrared saunas were a rising trend in the wellness world despite the lack of empirical evidence to back up mood-boosting, calorie-burning, skin-detoxifying claims. Anyone who visits the sauna regularly can anecdotally speak to the feeling of post-sauna bliss (and for many, that’s evidence enough), but aside from a few key studies, the research has been surprisingly barren, until now.
This year, we’re beginning to understand how sitting in the sauna benefits the body physiologically, and it turns out it's all about the circulatory system. A new study published in the Journal of Human Hypertension suggests that people who regularly sit in the sauna experience a decrease in systolic and diastolic blood pressure. These are the two components of a blood pressure reading—the systolic is first (top), which is indicative of the pressure your heart is exerting, and the diastolic is second (bottom), which is a reading of the pressure in your arteries. Lowering one or both of these numbers can be beneficial for those who have hypertension or high blood pressure.
According to the study, sitting in the heat of the sauna imparts benefits similar to cardiovascular exercise, at least when it comes to the heart. Blood pumps faster, sweat increases, blood vessels dilate, and the heart rate rises up to 120 beats per minute—which sounds a lot like what happens when you go for a run...except you're relaxing. And while you miss out on the muscle-toning benefits of exercise, it appears, researchers said, that the body benefits from the circulatory activity.
Blood pressure lowered overall while in the sauna, and dialostic blood pressure specifically remained lower for at least 30 minutes after the sauna session, suggesting consistent sauna sessions could be associated with longer-lasting benefits over time.
Want more? Here's why a naturopathic doctor recommends infrared sauna sessions to her patients.