If you’ve ever used a sauna, you know just a few minutes basking in dry heat can relax your muscles, open your lungs and reduce stress. Because of these benefits, many health enthusiasts add the sauna to their regular wellness regimen. Residents of Finland are way ahead of the game, as the country has more saunas per capita than any other country — about one per household. Turns out, they are really onto something.
A long-term study from the University of Eastern Finland looked at the impact saunas have on cardiovascular incidents and mortality. They analyzed the frequency of sauna use among more than 2,300 middle-aged men over a period of about 20 years, breaking them into groups by usage rate: one time per week, 2–3 times per week and 4–7 times per week. The results showed the more sauna time, the better.
Higher frequencies of sauna bathing were associated with a reduced risk of sudden cardiac death, fatal coronary heart disease, fatal cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality. That’s some compelling data. Naturally, you may feel an urge to move to Finland — or at least to install a sauna in your house.
Building on this research, a scientific review looked at the available studies and trials on saunas and their effects on cardiovascular outcomes and other diseases. It found similar results as its predecessor, furthering the case for adding the sauna to your health regimen. The researchers, based in Finland and the U.K., noted that emerging evidence suggests sauna bathing has several health benefits, including a reduction in the risk of vascular diseases such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stroke and neurocognitive diseases. It also shows benefits for nonvascular conditions like the common flu, as well as certain skin conditions and even pain from rheumatic diseases and headache. Importantly, the researchers again noted that sauna users experienced a reduction in all-cause mortality.
Sitting still in a hot room isn’t the same as taking a HIIT workout, running a 5K or going for a brisk bike ride. Luckily, that steamy sit might be doing more than it seems.
The same scientific review found “the physiological responses produced by an ordinary sauna bath correspond to those produced by moderate- or high-intensity physical activity such as walking.” Once more, that’s some compelling data. But lest you think that’s a reason to stop exercising, scientists noted that exercise combined with sauna use is a powerful one-two punch for your heart health. Good overall fitness levels, courtesy of aerobic exercise mixed with frequent sauna use, “confers more protection against the risk of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality events” than either one alone, they said.
So, if you are already exercising, keep it up. If you’re not, try to start. But regardless of where you are on your wellness journey, the evidence for implementing sauna sessions into your routine is strong.
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