Most of us think of a sauna as a nice way to relax and let the tension drain from our bodies. But a new study finds the Nordic pastime has other powerful health benefits.
For more than two decades, researchers from the University of Eastern Finland have tracked the health of 2,300 middle-aged men who take saunas. Participants were aged 42 to 60, with a median age of 53.
They divided the men into three groups: One group took a sauna once a week. Another group took two to three saunas a week. A third group took saunas four to seven times a week.1
3 Sauna Health Benefits
Here’s what they found:
- Heart problems: Men who go to a sauna two or three times a week have a 23% lower risk of fatal heart disease than those who go only once a week. Those who go to four to seven times a week have 48% lower risk.2
- Alzheimer’s: Two to three saunas a week lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s by 20%. Four to seven saunas lower risk by 65%.3,4
- Longevity: Over the course of the 20-year study, 49% of the men who went to a sauna once a week died. But only 38% of those who went two to three times a week died. Of the most frequent sauna takers, only 31% died.5
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Why Saunas Improve Health
Professor Jari Laukkaben is a cardiologist at the Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition at the University of Eastern Finland. He led the study. The results were published in JAMA and the journal Age and Ageing.6,7
Professor Laukkaben said that having a sauna lowers blood pressure. It has an overall healthy effect on the cardiovascular system and brain that mimics exercise. While in a sauna your heart rate increases to 100-150 beats per minute. This is similar to moderate to intense exercise.8
“Our results suggest that sauna bathing is a recommendable health habit,” he said.
Other health experts believe saunas are beneficial because sweating removes toxins from your body.9
Saunas are often identified with Nordic countries. But many cultures around the world have similar practices. Many Native American tribes have a tradition of sweat lodges as part of spiritual ceremonies. Ireland, Turkey, Portugal, Thailand, and Russia all have long traditions of steam baths.10
Saunas are gaining popularity in the U.S. Many fitness clubs now offer them. And infrared sauna studios, where infrared radiant heat is absorbed by the skin, are spreading across America.
To get the most from a sauna session:11
- Drink plenty of water beforehand. Otherwise, you may get dehydrated.
- Start slow. Make your first session short, no more than 10 minutes. And keep the temperature relatively low, about 150 degrees, until you get acclimated.
The most important thing? Listen to your body. If you start to feel dizzy, or your heart rate seems too high, take a break.