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science nutrition blog

science nutrition <strong>blog</strong>

By Steve Blechman



 A new Finnish study further confirms that sauna can improve health, lower blood pressure and prevent stroke. It was published in the journal Neurology. Another study confirmed that sauna can reduce the risk of high blood pressure. It was published in the American Journal of Hypertension. The study surveyed 1,621 middle-aged men over the course of 25 years with normal blood pressure.

 “Regular sauna bathing is associated with a reduced risk of hypertension, and decreased cardiovascular risk associated with sauna use…” per the American Journal of Hypertension. The heat from sauna improves endothelial and vascular function by improving blood flow and circulation.

 I’ve been a big fan of saunas and hot tubs for many years, but are hot baths good for muscle growth? Well, both the sauna and hot tub are forms of heat therapy. Heat therapy is an exciting area of research for maintaining cardiovascular health, insulin function, brown fat activation, fat loss, and muscle growth. The science supporting the health benefits of sauna is very impressive. I take a 15-20-minute sauna after every workout, and occasionally I enjoy a soak in the hot tub after a workout (bodybuilding) for added relaxation and recovery. The sauna and hot tub increase nitric oxide, a potent vasodilator and most likely one of the mechanisms for its blood pressure-lowering effect. Nitric oxide increases brown fat. Brown fat is the “good fat.” The more brown fat that you have, the more calories that you burn!

 The first time I experienced a sauna was when I was in college on a four-year wrestling scholarship. After my wrestling workouts, I would sit in the sauna for enhanced recovery and fat loss. I would get ripped to shreds! Of course, back then, I didn’t know the mechanisms or benefits of heat therapy, but now we know! Going into a sauna or hot tub after a workout for bodybuilding can make a world of difference if you’re trying to get ripped! 

 Heat increases muscle satellite cells, growth factors and protein synthesis. If you don’t have access to a hot tub or sauna, you might be wondering if hot baths are good for muscle growth (it’s heat, so yes). Or what about cold-water immersion for muscle recovery? Although cold-water immersion is a popular strategy used by many athletes to recovery from exercise, a study in the Journal of Physiology, published 8/13/2015, found that cold-water immersion prevented long-term gains in muscle mass and strength. Research has shown that cold-water immersion after a workout can inhibit strength for two days! Also, there have been reports that cold-water immersion or jumping into cold water can cause fatal heart attacks! I know some people who have dived into a cold pool and had suffered a heart attack! The cold water is a shock to the system, releasing tons of adrenaline and vasoconstriction. Frequent cold exposure is detrimental to the cardiovascular system. That’s why people that live in warmer climates such as Florida and Arizona have lower cardiovascular and stroke incidents. Most recently in the International Journal of Biometeorology, July 2018, it was found that sudden cold weather may increase stroke mortality. Recent research has shown that sauna and hot tub can enhance muscle growth and fat loss, by increasing growth hormone (GH) levels. GH enhances lipolysis, fat oxidation, and fat burning. In fact, studies have shown a 5- to 16-fold increase in the sauna and hot tub!

 Sauna and hot tub also increases heat-shock-proteins (HSP-90), which enhance insulin sensitivity and repair damaged proteins that are produced in the body in response to heat shock. Since sauna can increase insulin sensitivity, it can enhance fat loss and promote muscle growth.

 Research has shown that the sauna can increase muscular endurance by increasing red blood cell levels and stimulating the hormone erythropoietin (EPO), which can increase oxygen delivery, especially to muscle tissue. I’m very surprised that more athletes have not incorporated sauna into their daily workouts for recovery, and as a performance enhancer. Give it a try – science supports it and you won’t regret it!



Sauna Bathing and Incident Hypertension: A Prospective Cohort Study Francesco Zaccardi Tanjaniina Laukkanen Peter Willeit Setor K KunutsorJussi Kauhanen Jari A Laukkanen. American Journal of Hypertension, Volume 30, Issue 11, 1 November 2017, Pages 1120-1125,

Hannuksela, M.L., and Ellahham, S. (2001). Benefits and risks of sauna bathing. Am J Med 110, 118-126

Scoon, G.S., Hopkins, W.G., Mayhew, S., and Cotter, J. D. (2007). Effect of post-exercise sauna bathing on the endurance performance of competitive male runners. J Sci Med Sport 10, 259-262

Kukkonen-Harjula, K. Oja, P., Laustiola, K. Vouri, I. Jolkkonen, J.m Siltonen, S. and Vapaatalo, H. (1989). Haemodynamic and hormonal responses to heat exposure in a Finnish sauna bath. Euro J Appl Phys. Occup. Physio. 58, 543-550

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Ftaiti, F., Jemni, M., Kacem, A. Zaouali, M.A. , Tabka, Za. Zbidi, A., and Grelot, L. (2008). Effect of hyperthermia and physical activity on circulating growth hormone Appl. Physiol Nutr Metab 33, 880-887

Kokura, S., Adachi, S., Manabe, E. Mizushima, K., Hattori, T., Okuda, T., Nakabe, N. Handa, O. Takagi, T., Naito, Y. Yoshida, N. and Yoshikawa, T. (2007). Whole body hyperthermia improves obesity-induced insulin resistance in diabetic mice. Int J Hyperthermia 23, 259-265

Peake, J. M., Roberts, L. A., Figueiredo, V. C., Egner, I., Krog, S., Aas, S. N., Suzuki, K., Markworth, J. F., Coombes, J. S., Cameron-Smith, D. and Raastad, T. (2017). The effects of cold-water immersion and active recovery on inflammation and cell stress responses in human skeletal muscle after resistance exercise. J Physiol, 595: 695-711. doi:10.1113/JP272881

Roberts, L. A., Raastad, T. , Markworth, J. F., Figueiredo, V. C., Egner, I. M., Shield, A. , Cameron‐Smith, D., Coombes, J. S. and Peake, J. M. (2015), Post‐exercise cold water immersion attenuates acute anabolic signalling and long‐term adaptations in muscle to strength training. J Physiol, 593: 4285-4301. doi:10.1113/JP270570

Sauna bathing reduces the risk of stroke in Finnish men and women. Setor K. Kunutsor, Hassan Khan, Francesco Zaccardi, Tanjaniina Laukkanen, Peter Willeit, Jari A. Laukkanen. Neurology May 2018, 90 (22). e1937-e1944; DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000005606

Ikefuti, P.V., Barrozo, L.V. & Braga, A.L.F. Int J Biometeorol (2018).