Near infrared saunas have gained popularity in recent years as a wellness practice that offers multiple benefits for the mind and body. These saunas use near infrared wavelengths, a specific range of light that penetrates the skin more deeply compared to traditional saunas. Unfortunately, too many people don’t realise that heat therapy, via things like near infrared saunas, is very beneficial for metabolic syndrome, blood pressure, boosting circulation and cardiovascular health. If you have cardiovascular issues, or can’t exercise for various reasons, a sauna may be very helpful.
Poor circulation and cardiovascular issues can lead to various negative health complications. Most people are aware that it can contribute to conditions like hypertension, coronary artery disease, heart attacks, and strokes. It’s no secret that we need to address poor circulation and cardiovascular issues with diet, exercise and stress management. There is another way though that science is showing to be very promising, and that is through heat therapy.
Heat therapy is the application of repeated passive heat exposure, which includes the use of warm water immersion, Waon therapy (a dry, infrared sauna treatment) and all forms of saunas.
In 2021 a study titled “The effect of heat therapy on blood pressure and peripheral vascular function: A systematic review and meta-analysis”(1) was conducted. The authors note in their introduction that “despite the rapid increase in studies aiming to characterize the efficacy of heat therapy for indices of vascular function, to date no consensus exists on the ability of heat therapy to improve blood pressure and vascular function. Indeed, no systematic reviews and meta-analyses have been undertaken to examine the effect of heat therapy compared with control conditions on indices of vascular health.”(1)
So they reviewed the literature and what they found is what those of us in the field have known for some time “Heat therapy appears to be an effective intervention to improve blood pressure and vascular function in adults with and without existing CVD. Early evidence shows that heat therapy might also reduce arterial stiffness and enhance cutaneous microvascular function.”(1) There are some limitations to the study of course, but it’s still very promising and the details of how it works will continue to be determined over the coming years.
So, what does this mean for you if you have cardiovascular or metabolic issues such as hypertension?
Using tools such as a near infrared sauna may be very helpful for your long-term health and well-being.
Saunas, in general, have been found to
Here are some practical tips for incorporating near infrared sauna sessions into a home based wellness routine:
- Frequency and duration. PICK A TIME. Start with shorter sessions, typically around 10-15 minutes, and gradually increase the duration as your body adjusts. Aim for 2-3 sauna sessions per week to maintain a regular practice. However, the research is clear that to maximise the cardiovascular benefits 4-6 times per week is best. It is critical to listen to your body though and not overdo things.
- Home Use. Like many things if it’s not easy to use you won’t use it. Having to travel 15 minutes to a sauna, and 15 back will eventually become a hassle and you will likely start to skip sessions. If you have one in your home you are much more likely to use it. Fortunately, there are inexpensive home saunas such as sauna blankets and near infrared saunas that can be used for heat therapy.
- Precautions and safety. Heat can be dangerous. If you have existing cardiovascular conditions or other health concerns, consult with a healthcare professional before incorporating near infrared sauna therapy into your routine. The research literature suggests the following as contraindications. Severe aortic stenosis, unstable pectoral angina, recent myocardial infarction, decompensated heart failure, and cardiac arrythmia. Notice high blood pressure is not a contraindication! Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water before, during, and after your session. If you experience any discomfort or lightheadedness, it’s best to exit the sauna and cool down.
- Stacking habits like exercise, sleep and diet. If you exercise in the morning and want to sauna in the morning then plan it right after your exercise session. The research suggests it helps with recovery. Evening sauna use pairs well with diet and sleep. A sauna an hour or so after dinner and before bed can help shift your body to a more parasympathetic relaxed state helping your digestion, recovery and sleep. It’s important to view the sauna as part of a holistic wellness routine that encompasses multiple healthy habits if you can.
- Consistency is key. When it comes to healthy habits we seem to lose motivation all too easily! The reality is that motivation is fleeting. Success comes from discipline. The key to discipline is to do what you told yourself you were going to do. If you told yourself you were going to sauna 4 times per week just do it. Otherwise, you are slowly corroding your self-esteem and belief in yourself. Do what you said you were going to do.
If you have metabolic dysfunction, high blood pressure, cardiovascular issues, or are limited physically by arthritis, the use of heat therapy can be a very important addition to your health routine. Research suggests that sources of heat, such as a near infrared sauna, offer a range of benefits for cardiovascular health. This includes improved blood circulation, lowered blood pressure, enhanced heart function, stress reduction, improved endothelial function, and potential anti-inflammatory effects.
Consulting with a healthcare professional is vital before starting any heat or sauna therapy, as they can provide personalized guidance based on individual health needs and ensure its compatibility with existing cardiovascular conditions.
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- Pizzey FK, Smith EC, Ruediger SL, Keating SE, Askew CD, Coombes JS, Bailey TG. The effect of heat therapy on blood pressure and peripheral vascular function: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Exp Physiol. 2021 Jun;106(6):1317-1334. doi: 10.1113/EP089424. Epub 2021 May 10. PMID: 33866630.