Recovery from sauna bathing favorably modulates cardiac autonomic nervous system

Tanjaniina Laukkanen, Jukka Lipponen, Setor Kunutsor, Francesco Zaccardi, Claudio Gil Soares Araújo , Timo H. Mäkikallio, Hassan Khan, Peter Willeit, Earric Lee, Sanna Poikonen, Mika Tarvainen, Jari Laukkanen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)
156 Downloads (Pure)


Objective: Sauna bathing is becoming a common activity in many countries and it has been linked to favorable health outcomes. However, there is limited data on the heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV) responses to an acute sauna exposure. Design: We conducted a single-group, longitudinal study utilizing a pre-post design to examine acute effects of sauna bathing on the autonomic nervous system as reflected by HRV. A total of 93 participants (mean [SD] age: 52.0 [8.8] years, 53.8% males) with cardiovascular risk factors were exposed to a single sauna session (duration: 30 min; temperature: 73 °C; humidity: 10–20%) and data on HRV variables were collected before, during and after sauna. Results: Time and frequency-domain HRV variables were significantly modified (p < 0.001) by the single sauna session, with most of HRV variables tending to return near to baseline values after 30 min recovery. Resting HR was lower at the end of recovery (68/min) compared to pre-sauna (77/min). A sauna session transiently diminished the vagal component, whereas the cooling down period after sauna decreased low frequency power (p < 0.001) and increased high frequency power in HRV (p < 0.001), favorably modulating the autonomic nervous system balance. Conclusions: This study demonstrates that a session of sauna bathing induces an increase in HR. During the cooling down period from sauna bathing, HRV increased which indicates the dominant role of parasympathetic activity and decreased sympathetic activity of cardiac autonomic nervous system. Future randomized controlled studies are needed to show if HR and HRV changes underpins the long-term cardiovascular effects induced by regular sauna bathing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)190-197
Number of pages8
JournalComplementary Therapies in Medicine
Early online date22 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2019


  • Cardiovascular response
  • Heart rate variability
  • Heat therapy
  • Sauna bathing


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