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Can a Sauna bath have similar effects on the body as exercise?

The belief that physical activity or exercise promotes health and longevity is not novel and dates back to 2500 BC. Exercise is one of the most regularly prescribed therapies in health and disease, as its irrefutable evidence has shown benefits in the prevention and treatment of diseases. A famous term is ‘exercise is medicine’ and is the best way to stay healthy. But the problem is poor adherence to exercise for many people, due to multiple reasons like lack of time and motivation, and for the elderly, suffering from chronic illnesses, it is difficult to perform exercise due to physical limitation and pain.

According to an estimation, as much as 25% of the adults globally, don’t meet the minimum recommended physical activity level of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week. This sedentary lifestyle is associated with high mortality.

The modernization of current society has escalated this situation further by increasing sedentary behavior. Many tasks can be done with a click of a button and thus new strategies are needed to identify alternative strategies for health promotion and to increase adherence to exercise. To find a solution, Charles James Steward a Ph.D. candidate from Coventry University highlighted an alternative solution in a blog post on The Conversation. According to him heat therapy from a hot tub or sauna bath could be an effective alternative, as he looked into further evidence. To support this belief there was a study conducted on the health benefits of passive heating and aerobic exercise, that showed similar benefits of regular sauna or hot tub bathing to that of low to moderate-intensity aerobic exercises like that of walking, jogging, or cycling.

Charles James Steward also compared the similarities and differences between the physiological responses of exercise and heating for which the volunteers had to undergo a similar duration of hot tub bathing and moderate-intensity cycling. They observed core body temperature, heart rate, and energy expenditure, and blood flow (by ultrasound scan). He found that the core body temperature elevated comparably, so did heart rate and an increase in blood flow.

Australasian Journal of Social Science

Another long-term prospective cohort verified the association between Sauna Bathing with risks of sudden cardiac death, fatal coronary heart disease, and cardiovascular diseases. They found that increased frequency of sauna bathing is associated with a reduced risk of all the above-mentioned diseases.

The Romans are well known for their love of hot baths, other people worldwide have been found of hot springs. Dry saunas are common in Nordic countries. There are almost 3 million saunas in Finland alone. A study found that whole-body hyperthermia has a promising effect as a safe and rapid antidepressant modality with other prolonged therapeutic benefits.

Though heat has shown health benefits, more long-term clinical trials are needed on healthy and disease populations to fully understand the potential benefits of the sauna bath. Thought exercise remains the best method of health promotion, but researches have proven that bathing and hot tub could be an alternative option for those who are reluctant to participate in regular exercise.

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