The Cardiometabolic Health Benefits of Sauna Exposure in Individuals with High-Stress Occupations. A Mechanistic Review

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Jan 27;18(3):1105. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18031105.


Components of the metabolic syndrome (i.e., hypertension, insulin resistance, obesity, atherosclerosis) are a leading cause of death in the United States and result in low-grade chronic inflammation, excessive oxidative stress, and the eventual development of cardiometabolic diseases (CMD). High-stress occupations (HSO: firefighters, police, military personnel, first responders, etc.) increase the risk of developing CMD because they expose individuals to chronic and multiple stressors (i.e., sleep deprivation, poor nutrition habits, lack of physical activity, psychological stress). Interestingly, heat exposure and, more specifically, sauna bathing have been shown to improve multiple markers of CMD, potentially acting as hormetic stressors, at the cellular level and in the whole organism. Therefore, sauna bathing might be a practical and alternative intervention for disease prevention for individuals with HSO. The purpose of this review is to detail the mechanisms and pathways involved in the response to both acute and chronic sauna bathing and collectively present sauna bathing as a potential treatment, in addition to current standard of care, for mitigating CMD to both clinicians and individuals serving in HSO.

Keywords: firefighters; inflammation; military; oxidative stress; performance; police.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases* / prevention & control
  • Exercise
  • Humans
  • Occupations
  • Risk Factors
  • Steam Bath*