Most Americans think of sauna baths as a somewhat strange Nordic tradition. Why would a bunch of people sit naked in a hot little room with heated stones?
Some health clubs do provide saunas. Americans are usually in too much of a hurry, though, to spend extra time soaking up the heat and the steam after a vigorous workout. New research suggests, however, that regular sauna baths might be good for the brain.
Finnish Research on Sauna Baths:
One of Finland’s favorite pastimes may benefit the brain. Previous research showed that middle-aged men who frequented a sauna several times a week were less likely to die of heart disease. A study in JAMA Internal Medicine (April, 2015) concluded:
“Increased frequency of sauna bathing is associated with a reduced risk of SCD [sudden cardiac death], CHD [coronary heart disease], CVD [cardiovascular disease], and all-cause mortality. Further studies are warranted to establish the potential mechanism that links sauna bathing and cardiovascular health.”
Researchers have demonstrated that sauna bathing increases heart rate in a manner comparable to low- and moderate-intensity physical exercise. Blood pressure and heart function also seem to benefit. Cardiac output increases. Regular sauna baths improve flexibility of blood vessels. There are also data to suggest “lowered incidence of arrhythmias.”
The authors of the cardiovascular research conclude:
“Our results suggest that sauna bathing is a recommendable health habit, although further studies are needed to confirm our results in different population settings.”
Sauna Baths and the Brain:
A new study of Finnish men between 42 and 60 years of age shows that frequent sauna bathers were also less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. Those who visited the sauna more than four times a week were 66 percent less likely to be diagnosed with dementia than those who visited only once a week.
The researchers write:
“In this population-based study of middle-aged Finnish men, we found a strong inverse association between frequency of sauna bathing and the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, which was independent of known risk factors…
“In conclusion, this report provides promising results from the first prospective study that shows sauna bathing to be a potential protective lifestyle factor for common memory diseases in middle-aged Finnish men. Our results suggest that sauna bathing, an activity which promotes relaxation and well-being, may be a recommendable intervention to prevent or delay the development of memory diseases in healthy adults.”
The Benefits of Sauna Baths:
Sauna bathing can be a relaxing and potentially healthy activity. The authors suggest that there is a biologically plausible explanation for both the cardiovascular and brain benefits. They emphasize that regular sauna baths lead to improved blood vessel function and reduced inflammation. They conclude that saunas can encourage a relaxing lifestyle, improve cardiovascular function and prevent or delay dementia.
Have you ever experienced a sauna bath? Was it relaxing or uncomfortable? Share your story below in the comment section.