MIAMI (AFP) - Men who regularly visited a sauna lived longer and were less likely to die of sudden heart attacks than men who did not visit as often, said a Finnish study out Monday.
In often frigid Finland, going to the sauna is a popular activity, and is believed to confer good health and relaxation.
While other studies have examined the link between better circulation and sauna use, the latest study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine looked at the link between sauna bathing and the risk of sudden cardiac death, fatal coronary heart disease, fatal cardiovascular disease and dying from any cause among a group of 2,315 middle-aged men (42 to 60 years old) from eastern Finland.
The men - all of whom went to saunas but some more often than others - were tracked for a median, or midpoint, of 21 years.
Comparing the risk of sudden cardiac death among those who reported going to sauna once a week to those who went two to three times, the more frequent sauna-goers had a 22 per cent lower risk of sudden cardiac death.
Those who went four to seven times a week had a 63 per cent lower risk than those who went once.
Similarly, coronary heart disease risk was 23 percent lower for two to three bathing sessions per week and 48 percent lower for four to seven sauna sessions per week compared to once a week, the study said.
And the risk of dying from heart disease was 27 percent lower for men who took saunas two to three times a week and 50 percent lower for men who were in the sauna four to seven times a week, again compared to those who went once per week.
When researchers looked at the risk of dying from any cause, they found sauna bathing two to three times per week was associated with a 24 per cent lower risk.
Going to sauna four to seven days a week was linked to a 40 per cent reduction in death risk.
Staying more than 19 minutes in the sauna also appeared more beneficial than staying less than 11 minutes in the hot, wood-panelled room.
"Further studies are warranted to establish the potential mechanism that links sauna bathing and cardiovascular health," said the study, led by Jari Laukkanen, of the University of Eastern Finland.
Some previous studies have found saunas are linked to improved heart health, but none have proven cause and effect, or explained exactly how saunas may be helping the body.
"Although we do not know why the men who took saunas more frequently had greater longevity (whether it is the time spent in the hot room, the relaxation time, the leisure of a life that allows for more relaxation time or the camaraderie of the sauna), clearly time spent in the sauna is time well spent," wrote JAMA Internal Medicine editor-in-chief Rita Redberg of the University of California, San Francisco.