Looking for a new way to boost your health? It might be time to turn up the heat.
A 2017 study shows that regular visits to a sauna are affiliated with a reduced risk of high blood pressure. More than 1,600 Finnish men ages 42 to 60 participated for more than 20 years with factors such as smoking and body mass index taken into consideration.
The findings correlate with a 2015 study of more than 2,300 Finnish men that showed a lower risk for a number of cardiovascular conditions including heart failure and coronary heart disease. 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.”
But saunas are not only beneficial for heart health. It can also help fight memory loss. Findings showed a correlation between frequent sauna use and a lowered risk of Alzheimer's disease and dementia.
The benefits don't end there! When exercise is combined with regular sauna use, it can lead to a longer life compared with exercise or saunas alone.
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.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in 2015 and has been updated.