A sauna room, located in many spas and gyms, can offer multiple health benefits which include cardiovascular function, less arterial stiffness, positive changes in the autonomic nervous system, and lower blood pressure.
A sauna session can make your heart race due to raised temperatures, systolic blood pressure drops, maximal oxygen uptake, and the effects of sweating on your body. People with cardiovascular risk may experience a higher heat shock protein in the sauna, but this results in better blood vessel health.
In the rest of the article, we will look into how sauna and steam rooms affect your heart, and how can you prevent rapid heartbeats during a sauna or steam room session.
Table of Contents
- Why My Heart Races in the Sauna?
- Effects of Sauna & Steam Room on Your Heart
- How to Prevent Rapid Heartbeats in a Sauna or Steam Room
Why My Heart Races in the Sauna?
Both a dry-heat, Finnish-style sauna, and a steam sauna, also known as a “wet sauna”, offer many positive, heart-healthy benefits. At the same time, you might also experience a racing heart when spending time in a sauna room.
That’s because saunas are typically unpainted, wooden rooms that pack a lot of heat in an enclosed space. Most sauna temperatures are raised from 150°F-195°F. Some may even range from 160-200 degrees. An infrared sauna can even cause dehydration, which can make your heartbeat feel shaky.
It’s important to know that not all locations inside a sauna are equally hot. For example, a modern sauna that has both heated rocks and electric heaters might have cooler spots near the floor that are only 90 degrees, while heat rises to 185 degrees once you reach the top bench.
A steam room isn’t going to get as hot as a dry sauna. Instead, a steam room has temps that range between 110 and 120 degrees, which is a good option if you get overheated easily.
Since saunas and steam rooms raise your body temperature, this can result in a racing or pounding heart.
When your body’s temperature goes up, your heart rate increases, too. It’s common for your heart to increase the amount of blood that it pumps out per minute in hot conditions. It's typically normal for a person’s cardiac output to double in response to handling the heat.
Effects of Sauna & Steam Room on Your Heart
A racing heart might make you question if a sauna or a steam room is good for you.
Most medical experts agree that normal sauna use, both for healthy adults and people with at least one cardiac risk, reduces heart issues and improves cardiovascular function.
When your heartbeat increases in the sauna in response to heat and sweating toxins out of your body, your circulation improves. Better circulation also makes your heart healthier since it forces blood from your core, pumping it through your arteries, and to the surface of your skin.
Since sauna heat also drops your blood pressure, your heart starts to pump 30% more blood volume to compensate.
It’s basically the only time that sitting still can elevate your heart rate to produce the same effect as moderate exercise. When you spend a moderate amount of time in the sauna, anywhere from 10-20 minutes, your ticker gets a good workout as it will typically hit between 100-150 beats per minute during the session.
One study found that people who regularly used a sauna for 15-20 minutes 2-3 times per week saw their high blood pressure levels drop. They also had less stiffness in their arteries which helped reduce their risk of hardening of the arteries.
While people who go to the sauna are also likely to exercise more, medical professionals agree that regular sauna use boosts heart health.
Keep in mind that while a sauna session can improve heart function and boost your overall health, going to the sauna shouldn't replace a healthy diet and regular exercise.
How to Prevent Rapid Heartbeats in a Sauna or Steam Room
Many people don’t like to feel their heart rate increase when they’re not exercising. While a racing heart may feel scary, it’s typically a normal response to raised temperatures. But if you’ve had a stroke, heart attack, low blood pressure, or are currently sick, it’s best to practice caution and avoid a heat or steam room.
If you have the green light from your doctor to hit the sauna, there are a few things that you can do to avoid a rapid heartbeat while you relax in the dry heat.
- First, don’t overdo it by staying too long in the room. You’ll want to stick to basic safety guidelines which advise spending no more than 15-20 minutes at a time in a sauna 2-3 times per week. Avoid a rapid heartbeat and still get your sauna fixed by cycling your session in intervals. Try doing 15 minutes in the sauna, stepping out for a five-minute break, and then heading back inside. Repeat this cycle 3 or 4 times to give your body a chance to cool down and your heart rate to adjust.
- A second way to prevent a racing heart is to moderate the sauna’s temperature control if you can. If you aren’t able to change it, if you’re at a spa or a gym, for instance, choose a spot that’s closer to the floor because the upper benches will get hotter since warm air rises.
- Another way to avoid rapid heart rate is to stay hydrated. It’s no surprise that the dry heat sucks the moisture out of your body. This can cause a fast heartbeat. Make sure to drink water before and after your sauna session to avoid dehydration. It’s also a good idea to skip any alcoholic beverages both before and after the sauna since this can accelerate dehydration.
If you have cardiac issues or experience ill effects, it’s best to talk to your doctor and get the all-clear before you hit the sauna.
For example, if you experience TIA, have had strokes, or have low blood pressure, a sauna session may not be a good idea since it can exacerbate these conditions or drop your blood pressure too low.
Stop any sauna session and get to a cooler space if you experience negative effects from overheating or cardiac issues such as light-headedness. Avoid switching temperatures too abruptly from hot to cold or vice versa to steer clear of any complications.
Also read: Are Sauna & Steam Rooms Good For Your Bones?
Sweating out stress in the sauna is as healthy as exercise is for your heart.
Some heart racing can be normal due to the heat and raised body temperature. But if you notice that you get light-headed, have low blood pressure, or feel like passing out, it’s a good idea to step out of the sauna and cool down naturally.
If you’re healthy and don’t have heart issues, it’s generally safe to enjoy a normal and relaxing sauna session on a regular basis.
(Featured image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay)