Background: Passive heat therapies have been reported to have similar effects on the cardiovascular system as exercise. Studies supporting these findings in healthy populations have predominantly been done with men using warm water immersions or traditional saunas, rather than newer infrared-based saunas.

Objective: To explore short-term thermal and cardiovascular responses in women using an infrared sauna as compared to moderate-intensity exercise.

Study design: Randomized controlled crossover trial with balanced allocations.

Setting: Brisbane, Australia (August 2019 – March 2020) PARTICIPANTS: Ten healthy women (36 ± 9 years) INTERVENTIONS: 45 min of resting, infrared sauna or indoor bicycling PRIMARY OUTCOME MEASURES: tympanic/skin temperatures; respiratory rate; blood pressure; arterial stiffness; heart rate variability RESULTS: Tympanic temperatures were elevated during infrared sauna as compared to both control (mean diff = +1.05 oC ± SEM 0.12 oC, 95% C.I.: 0.73 – 1.36, p < 0.0005) and exercise (mean diff = +0.79 oC ± SEM 0.12 oC, 95% C.I.: 0.49 – 1.08, p < 0.0005). Respiratory rates were higher during exercise as compared to both control (mean diff = +7.66 ± SEM 1.37, 95% C.I.: 4.09 – 11.23, p < 0.0005) and infrared sauna (mean diff = +6.66 ± SEM 1.33, 95% C.I.: 3.20 – 10.11, p < 0.0005). No significant differences in non-invasive measures of blood pressure, arterial stiffness or heart rate variability were detected between any of the interventions.

Conclusions: These findings suggest the physiological effects of infrared sauna bathing are underpinned by thermoregulatory-induced responses, more so than exercise-mimetic cardiorespiratory or cardiovascular activations.

Keywords: Exercise; Heart rate variability; Infrared sauna; Pulse wave analysis; Thermal responses.

Hussain JN, Cohen MM, Mantri N, O’Malley CJ, Greaves RF. Infrared sauna as exercise-mimetic? Physiological responses to infrared sauna vs exercise in healthy women: A randomized controlled crossover trial. Complement Ther Med. 2022 Mar;64:102798. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2021.102798. Epub 2021 Dec 23. PMID: 34954348.