Sauna and Blood Pressure: Can It Help Hypertension?

Sauna and Blood Pressure: Can It Help Hypertension?

When you’re sitting in the sauna, do you ever marvel about how your blood vessels are getting an impressive workout just sitting there? No? Just me? Well, I hope by the time you’re done reading this, you’ll find the connection between blood pressure and sauna therapy as fascinating as I do! Whether you have blood pressure issues or not – this information is important.

I’m Christine Krall, Naturopathic Doctor (ND) and super sweater. I’ve had the privilege of living in the Asheville, NC area where the very first Sauna House was built. As a ND, we are taught about the power of sauna for health maintenance as well as for healing. Before Asheville, I was working as a doctor at Yellowstone Naturopathic Clinic in Billings, Montana. The clinic had a sauna and cold plunge and we would often recommend this for patients, not just for relaxation, but also for its therapeutic properties. Now my career has led me to writing. But I will always be passionate about sauna and other health-promoting practices ingrained in cultures worldwide.

Dr. Christine Krall

Sauna bathing offers a multitude of health benefits, especially for your cardiovascular system and in particular for people with hypertension (high blood pressure). Check out Sauna House’s article on hypertension or Susanna Soeberg’s substack article if you need a primer on hypertension in general. Today we’ll explore what’s actually happening to your blood vessels and blood pressure when you sit in the sauna and cold plunge.

Does Sauna Lower Blood Pressure?

A review paper published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings on Finnish Sauna Bathing (one of the sauna styles that Sauna House uses) showed that regular and frequent sauna bathing reduces the risk of hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases. The combination of sauna and physical activity has a stronger effect but sauna bathing alone produces effects similar to those that happen with moderate- or high-intensity exercise. In addition to Finnish sauna, infrared saunas show similar blood pressure reducing benefits [1].

How Does Sauna Lower Blood Pressure?

Sauna has both immediate and long-term blood pressure lowering effects. Here’s how:

  • Blood vessel changes: In the short-term, heat from the sauna can lead to vasodilation (blood vessel widening) which reduces blood pressure. Over time, a regular sauna practice leads to blood pressure reduction, reduced arterial stiffness and greater pliability, and several other heart and lung mechanisms that impact blood vessel function [1]. Problems that narrow blood vessels like cholesterol plaque buildup, AKA atherosclerosis, can lead to high blood pressure. The arteries become stiff, instead of pliable. It is important for our blood vessels to be flexible – not too stiff, not too loose.
  • Reduces stress: Sauna also has the added benefit of being a stress reducer. Considering the role that stress plays in most diseases, stress-relieving techniques can be a beneficial treatment, especially with hypertension [2].
  • Reduces inflammation: A phenomenon called “inflammaging” is the result of ongoing low-grade inflammation that occurs with aging [3]. The good thing is that sauna reduces inflammation which may also be part of the mechanism for helping hypertension.

Sauna bathing and hypertension

How Much Does Sauna Lower Blood Pressure?

One study on people with cardiovascular risk factors showed that regular sauna bathing combined with exercise reduced systolic blood pressure (SBP) by 8 mm Hg in just 8 weeks [4]. While an 8mm Hg reduction may not seem like a big number, for reference sake, SBP reductions of 5 to 7 mm Hg reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by 20% to 30% in people with hypertension [1]. That’s substantial! The researchers concluded, “Sauna bathing is a safe and simple lifestyle modification and steps should be taken to make it more accessible worldwide [4].” And that’s just what Sauna House is doing, with the mission of bringing a healing space to everyone.

Is Cold Water Immersion Helpful for Hypertension?

Many studies look at sauna’s effect on blood pressure, but there are fewer studies on cold therapy. Cold therapy may be beneficial for lowering blood pressure, although studies have not been conducted specifically on people with hypertension.

There is much debate on the topic of cold water immersion therapy and blood pressure. Some studies look at the immediate effects of cold, which causes vasoconstriction (blood vessel narrowing) that can then increase blood pressure. This is in contrast to long-term effects which could normalize blood pressure due to an adaptive process with repeated exposure [5]. One small study on healthy men who followed a 3-week cold water immersion protocol showed a reduction in blood pressure [6]. Longer-term studies are needed, especially in people with hypertension.

People with unstable heart disease or who have coronary artery risk factors are not good candidates for cold therapy [7]. Does this mean that people with heart disease have to fear the cold plunge? Not necessarily. There is some research showing the safety of Finnish sauna bathing with a brief cold plunge in people with stable congestive heart failure (CHF) [8]. Basically, check with your cardiologist first to see if sauna or cold water immersion will put you at risk.

Cold Emersion

What About Contrast Therapy?

At Sauna House, you have options: you can choose classic Finnish style contrast therapy (Hot-Cold-Relax x 3) or infrared sauna. Naturopathic doctors like contrast therapy because the alternating vasodilation and vasoconstriction gives the vessels a workout. This creates a pumping action that is like “exercise” for the blood vessels. Older research on contrast baths showed benefit in patients with mild hypertension [9]. Both hot and cold showers may help blood pressure.

How To Sauna Safely For Healthy Blood Pressure

Follow these 5 tips for sauna bathing to maintain healthy blood pressure levels:

  • Sauna regularly: Studies show that sauna at least 3 times a week is beneficial for reducing hypertension risk [2,4].
  • Stay hydrated: In general, dehydration elevates blood pressure [10]. Because sauna can be a dehydrating experience, especially when doing it regularly, it’s important to make sure you’re hydrated on a daily basis. If you pinch the skin on top of your hand and it forms a tent that stays a few moments – you’re likely dehydrated.
  • Get your electrolytes: Minerals like sodium and potassium are electrolytes lost during sweating. We get electrolytes from food like salt, potatoes, and bananas. They help control fluid balance in our cells which helps with hydration. Sometimes an electrolyte supplement or even salt is helpful. But people with high blood pressure are told to avoid sodium and salt! If you’re losing salt through sweat, it still needs to be replaced. If you have weakness and muscle cramping with lots of sweating, it could be a sign that you need electrolytes and water to hydrate.
  • Sauna together: Unless you are experienced with sauna, and know your body’s signals very well, it’s best to be with others in case you feel faint or uneasy. An added bonus is that sauna bathing with others promotes a sense of community which is great for overall health.
  • Work your way up: Start with a shorter amount of time in the sauna and work your way up as your body adapts over time. It’s not a competition. Most people don’t “feel” the effects of high blood pressure. But speaking from experience, you sure can “feel” low blood pressure – light-headed, dizzy, tired. This is what you might experience during a sauna session since blood pressure does drop.

A few years back I was struggling with mold toxicity issues, panic attacks, anxiety, and burnout. After always having normal blood pressure readings, this illness caused my blood pressure to drop by 30 points… overnight! And it stayed that way for months. Sauna therapy was a key factor in my rehabilitation back to normal.

Now you might be assuming based on what I just said, that sauna increased my blood pressure back to normal. As we’ve learned, in the short- and long-term, sauna reduces blood pressure. My blood pressure normalized over time because my overall condition improved. But because I was dealing with low blood pressure, I did follow my own tips for how to sauna safely.

Any health-related article wouldn’t be complete without a disclaimer, but that’s because everyone’s body and situation is unique. It’s important to check with your doctor before you hit the sauna and/or cold plunge if you have poorly controlled hypertension, serious heart issues, or low blood pressure [11]. Low blood pressure can sometimes happen with blood pressure-lowering medicine doses that need adjusting.

Sauna bathing may be a valuable tool for people with hypertension and those wanting to prevent cardiovascular and other diseases. Many people associate blood pressure problems with old age, when in fact, the underlying process begins much sooner. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.


Dr. Christine Krall received her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She completed a 3-year Family Practice & Oncology Residency at Yellowstone Naturopathic Clinic and Frontier Cancer Center in Billings, MT. Dr. Krall spent a decade providing test interpretation and educational support to practitioners at Genova Diagnostics, a functional medicine laboratory in Asheville, NC. Dr. Krall continues to use her 20 years of writing experience to communicate the benefits of natural medicine.

Citing our sources:

    1. Kunutsor SK, Laukkanen JA. Does the Combination of Finnish Sauna Bathing and Other Lifestyle Factors Confer Additional Health Benefits? A Review of the Evidence. Mayo Clin Proc. 2023;98(6):915-926.
    2. Henderson KN, Killen LG, O'Neal EK, Waldman HS. The Cardiometabolic Health Benefits of Sauna Exposure in Individuals with High-Stress Occupations. A Mechanistic Review. International journal of environmental research and public health. 2021;18(3).
    3. Dinh QN, Drummond GR, Sobey CG, Chrissobolis S. Roles of inflammation, oxidative stress, and vascular dysfunction in hypertension. BioMed research international. 2014;2014:406960.
    4. Lee E, Kolunsarka I, Kostensalo J, et al. Effects of regular sauna bathing in conjunction with exercise on cardiovascular function: a multi-arm, randomized controlled trial. American journal of physiology Regulatory, integrative and comparative physiology. 2022;323(3):R289-r299.
    5. Esperland D, de Weerd L, Mercer JB. Health effects of voluntary exposure to cold water - a continuing subject of debate. International journal of circumpolar health. 2022;81(1):2111789
    6. Versteeg N, Clijsen R, Hohenauer E. Effects of 3-week repeated cold water immersion on leukocyte counts and cardiovascular factors: an exploratory study. Frontiers in physiology. 2023;14:1197585.
    7. Imai Y, Nobuoka S, Nagashima J, et al. Acute myocardial infarction induced by alternating exposure to heat in a sauna and rapid cooling in cold water. Cardiology. 1998;90(4):299-301.
    8. Radtke T, Poerschke D, Wilhelm M, et al. Acute effects of Finnish sauna and cold-water immersion on haemodynamic variables and autonomic nervous system activity in patients with heart failure. European journal of preventive cardiology. 2016;23(6):593-601.
    9. Sorokina EI, Iachmenev NV, Goncharova OI. [The effect of contrast baths on physical work capacity and autonomic regulation in hypertension patients]. Voprosy kurortologii, fizioterapii, i lechebnoi fizicheskoi kultury. 1994(5):4-7.
    10. Watso JC, Farquhar WB. Hydration Status and Cardiovascular Function. Nutrients. 2019;11(8).
    11. Laukkanen JA, Laukkanen T, Kunutsor SK. Cardiovascular and Other Health Benefits of Sauna Bathing: A Review of the Evidence. Mayo Clin Proc. 2018;93(8):1111-1121.
February 29, 2024
By: Dr Christine Krall