Heart Disease Affects Many People

More than 800,000 Americans die from cardiovascular disease each year, which accounts for one out of every three deaths in the United States, according to the American Heart Association. If you suffer a heart attack, your doctor may prescribe cardiac rehabilitation in order to reduce your risk of additional cardiac events. Cardiac rehab is designed to slow, stabilize or even reverse the progression of cardiovascular disease in a patient. Cardiac rehab usually involves education about lifestyle changes to lower your risk of heart disease, emotional support and exercise training, according to the Mayo Clinic. People of all ages can benefit from a cardiac rehab program and your doctor can determine what type of program is best for you following a review of your medical history, physical exam and performing tests to make sure you’re ready to begin a rehab regimen. As a long-term maintenance program, cardiac rehab is designed to make sure your lifestyle practices become lifelong routines. Over the long run you may see positive changes to your life such as weight management, cutting out bad habits, find ways to manage stress, decrease your risk of additional heart conditions and a gain in strength, among others. Cardiac rehab can be done at home, or at a local gym. Incorporating regular sauna sits to your cardiac rehab routine may provide health benefits to your body too.

Heat Used to Help Your Heart

Although saunas have increased in popularity in recent years, the use of saunas dates back thousands of years in cultures around the world, most recently the discovery of a bath house in Scotland dating back to the Bronze Age, around 2000 B.C., as reported in an article by the Observer. The effects a sauna has on the body are similar no matter how the sauna is heated. There is a wide variety of sauna types and styles for use including electrically heated, wood burning, a steam room and a far-infrared sauna. In Infrared saunas, special lamps use light waves to heat a person’s body instead of the entire room. Infrared saunas are one of the few mediums that provide infrared heat in a controlled environment. Infrared heat is an invisible electromagnetic wave with a wavelength longer than that of visible light that helps improve blood flow. Typically in a traditional sauna, the surrounding air is heated up to about 185 degrees, which then heats your body up. However, in infrared saunas the temperature only reaches about 140 degrees. Infrared rays penetrate your body more deeply, which cause your body to start sweating at a lower temperature than a traditional sauna. According to a 2009 review of evidence done by the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, researchers found that infrared saunas produce a lighter demand on the cardiovascular system, so they in turn might be beneficial to people who lead a more sedentary life due to medical issues.

Lowering Stress after a Heart Attack with Sauna Sits

One element to cardiac rehab is aiding patients in learning how to manage high levels of stress. The average stress levels in the United States rose from 4.9 to 5.1 on a scale from 1 to 10, according to an annual stress survey performed by the American Psychological Association in 2015. Stress symptoms can affect your mood, behavior and your body. Left unchecked for a period of time, stress may contribute to several chronic health problems including, but not limited to: heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. Stress symptoms on your body may include the following: fatigue; problems sleeping; upset stomach; changes in your sex drive; headaches; chest pain; and tension in your muscles. If you experience chest pain, particularly if it occurs during physical activity along with shortness of breath, pain shooting into your shoulder and arm; sweating and/or dizziness, seek emergency help right away. These could be the symptoms of a heart attack and not just the effects of stress. According to the book “Sauna Therapy for Detoxification and Healing,” written by Dr. Lawrence Wilson, several studies have shown that regular sauna use lowers levels of cortisol, which is the body’s main stress hormone. Dr. Wilson writes that research has shown that sweating increases relaxation, which reduces anxiety and the feeling of frustration.

A Happy Heart May Start Inside A Sauna

A 2015 study published by JAMA Internal Medicine, found an association between regular sauna use and a lower risk of fatal heart disease. The study involved more than 2,300 middle-aged men in Finland and found that the more often a man took a sauna the lower his risk was to fatal heart disease and death. The researchers for that study also found a connection between regular sauna use and a lower risk of dementia, high blood pressure and other benefits. In Finland where saunas are very prevalent in the culture, it was hard to find subjects who did not use them at all, so the study of men was done by those who used them more or less frequently. While researchers did note that it is not exactly known why men who took more frequents saunas had greater longevity, whether it is the relaxation time spent, leisure time, or the effects of heat in the room. One of the authors of the study noted that the research team believes both heat and relaxation are important factors because heart rate increases with full-body heat exposure and that helps to improve cardiac output. Saunas are a relaxing option for anyone looking for alternative treatment to incorporate into their cardiac rehabilitation program. Be sure to talk to your doctor before you incorporate sauna sits in your cardiac rehabilitation program. If you are new to sauna sits, it is recommended that first-time users spend no more between five and 10 minutes. As you get more and more used to the heat, you can slowly increase the time you spend in a sauna to up to about 20 minutes. It is important to remember these safety tips when using a Sauna: cool down slowly after use, stay hydrated by drinking two to four glasses of water after each sauna sit and avoid alcohol before and after sauna sits.
Resources: Blaha B, et al. 2017. Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2017 Update: A Report From the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2017; e205. 135:00–00. DOI: 10.1161/CIR.0000000000000485; Balady GJ., et al.2011. Referral, enrollment, and delivery of cardiac rehabilitation/secondary prevention programs at clinical centers and beyond: a presidential advisory from the American Heart Association. Circulation; 124:2951-2960. Dr. Tania Dempsey  “WSJ says Infrared Suanas Don’ts Help You Detox- Studies Disagree”, The Observer, November, 2017; American Psychological Association; “Sauna Therapy for Detoxification and Healing,” by Dr. Lawrence Wilson; Laukkanen  T, Khan  H, Zaccardi  F, Laukkanen  JA.  Association between sauna bathing and fatal cardiovascular and all-cause mortality events [published online February 23, 2015].  JAMA Intern Med. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8187.