Frequent trips to the sauna can help reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s, according to a new study out of Finland.
Researchers out of the University of Eastern Finland have found a link between saunas and memory-related diseases. The researchers followed over 2,300 middle-aged Finnish men over 20 years. The participants spent about 14 minutes per visit, with inside temperatures as high as 175F.
The study showed that men who went to the sauna four to seven days a week were 66% less likely to develop dementia and 65% less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s than those who visited the sauna once per week.
Jari Laukkanen, senior researcher, said the group took into account other lifestyle factors, like socioeconomic factors and physical activity.
The findings only indicated an association between saunas and memory-related diseases. The findings, he said, would have to be explored further through other studies with various age groups, women and other nationalities.
The study’s findings were published in the Age and Ageing journal in December, and suggested that the benefits of using a sauna could extend to the brain and heart.
Laukkanen says that the heart rate increases while in a sauna, which is “a bit like physical exercise.”
After a session in the sauna, he says, you may “have lower blood pressure, and blood pressure is an important risk factor in cardiovascular and memory diseases.”
“The cardiovascular effects of sauna have been well documented in the past,” says Dr. Thomas H. Lee, cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s hospital. “It lowers blood pressure, and there is every reason to believe that its effects are good for blood vessels.”
Sauna use is deeply embedded in the Finnish culture. In fact, Harvard Health Publishing says the country has more saunas than television sets. Most people have their own personal saunas, but they’re also standard amenities at most factories and offices.
Finns spend more time in saunas that they do in the gym. Most visit a sauna at least once per week, but only about half of men and a third of women meet the WHO’s exercise guidelines.
Saunas have been shown to produce similar effects to that of exercise, although experts wouldn’t necessarily recommend trading your weekly workout routine for a few trips to the sauna.
Along with lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of memory-related diseases, another study found that regular sauna visits improved the intensity of tension-related headaches. Other evidence suggests that saunas can help improve breathing and lung function in patients with asthma, chronic bronchitis and other lung diseases.
Researchers in the study point out that Finnish saunas are unique, and the results aren’t applicable to hot tubs and steam baths. The saunas in Finland are typically heated by a stone-topped stove and the walls are lined with wood. The air inside is dry and hot, although they occasionally pour water over the stones to produce a steam-like vapor.
To gain the same benefits found in the study, a typical Finnish sauna must be used.