Looking for a new way to boost your health? It might be time to turn up the heat.
For the study, researchers gathered health data on more than 2,300 Finnish men over a 20-year period. Between 1984 and 1985, the men filled out health questionnaires about their weekly sauna use. The researchers followed up with them again in 2011. They found that the men who spent more time in the sauna — both in frequency and duration of visits — had less risk for heart problems and a lower chance of mortality.
The correlation was strong even when researchers accounted for interacting factors, said senior author Dr. Jari Laukkanen, a cardiologist at the Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition of the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio.
“More is better,” Laukkanen said about the participant's frequency of sauna sessions. “It seems that those who had more than four sauna sessions per week had a lowest risk, but also those with two to three sauna sessions may get some benefits.”
In the U.S., sauna use has never really gained mainstream popularity, although historically, indigenous peoples used sweat lodges to achieve the same effect. But in other parts of the world, particularly in Scandinavian countries such as Norway, Sweden, and Finland, sauna use has remained a tradition. In Finland, where this study was conducted, sauna bathing is considered the norm rather than the exception. In fact, of the 2,327 Finnish men initially contacted for this study, only 12 said they did not regularly use a sauna.
So how can sitting and sweating be good for you? Like exercise, sauna sessions can help increase your heart rate and get a good sweat on. In addition, many people find sauna use relaxing. This combination of benefits is what researchers say provides life-long benefits for the heart.
Before you head off in search of the closest sauna, keep a few things in mind. People who have low blood pressure or who are dehydrated should not use the sauna. So you should check-in with your doctor before giving it a try, especially if you are pregnant. Speaking of which, this study only looked at the health benefits of sauna use for men, and while researchers speculate that they would be similar for women, the correlation is not clear without more studies.
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