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Sauna sessions as 'exhausting' as a workout, study says

Not up for your daily three-mile run or spin class? Sauna sessions can be as physically exhausting as a workout, and have benefits for the heart and blood pressure, a new study has found.

Just don’t expect it to help with weight loss or act as a full-time exercise replacement, researchers said.

The study, led by Dr. Sascha Ketelhut of Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, found that a person who spent 25 minutes in the sauna saw, on average, the same rise in heart rate and blood pressure that they’d see using a rowing machine. Once sauna sessions were over, heart rate and blood pressure fell again, similarly to exercise.

The study set out to see if previous claims, that sauna sessions lower blood pressure, were true.

“Contrary to popular belief, acute sauna use does not lead to a reduction, but to an increase in [blood pressure] and [heart rate] with a consequent increase in myocardial oxygen consumption,” the researchers wrote.

The study monitored 19 volunteers – seven women and 12 men – as they relaxed in the sauna for 25 minutes, then spent 30 minutes cooling down from the heat and humidity. They found that the physical stress of the sauna’s heat appeared to correspond with a steady, progressive rise in blood pressure and heart rate similar to exercise.

“A sauna session is a physical strain,” Ketelhut told the Daily Mail. “Its long-term positive effects are similar to sports activities.”

The new report comes on the heels of previous studies that found sauna sessions can reduce the risk of heart disease and substantially lower stroke risk.

The good news is that even people with low blood pressure may be able to safely use a sauna.

“Saunas can actually be used by anyone who can tolerate moderate physical stress without discomfort,” Ketelhut told the Mail. “However, people with low blood pressure should be cautious afterwards, as their blood pressure may then fall below the levels registered before the sauna visit.”

However, while sauna sessions may mimic some of the physical effects of exercise, they’re not a substitution, especially for those hoping to lose weight. Muscle activity is needed for that, the researchers said.

The study has been published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine.

By Kyla Cathey, staff writer

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