HELSINKI • Can sauna bathing give you a clean bill of health?
A study conducted by researchers from the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Jyvaskyla has shown that a higher frequency of this activity can lower the risk of death from cardiovascular disease (CVD) in middle-aged and elderly people.
The research, which has recently been published in open-access journal BMC Medicine, found that the mortality from CVD among people using sauna amenities four to seven times a week is 73 per cent lower than those who do it once a week.
The findings were based on self-reported questionnaires and documents recording deaths from cardiovascular causes.
A total of 1,688 people living in eastern Finland were involved in the research.
At the beginning of the study, the average age of the participants was 63 years old. Among them, 51.4 per cent were women and 49.5 per cent were men. Data was collected between 1998 and 2015.
The long-term study found that the number of cases of CVD mortality decreased as the length of time spent in the sauna a week increased.
For those who devoted more than 45 minutes a week, the number of cases was 5.1 per 1,000 person years.
The number was 9.6 for those who logged fewer than 15 minutes in the sauna a week.
Professor Jari Laukkanen from the University of Eastern Finland said an important finding of the research was that more regular sauna use is associated with a lower risk of death from CVD in middle-aged to elderly women as well as men, adding that previous studies focused mainly on men.
There are several possible reasons behind the association between sauna use and the lower risk of death from CVD.
The research team has shown in previous studies that high sauna use is associated with lower blood pressure.
In addition, sauna use is known to trigger an increase in the heart rate, which is seen in low-to moderate-intensity physical exercises too, added Prof Laukkanen.
However, the researchers pointed out that further research is needed to understand if the findings apply to other populations outside the region.
The sauna is an essential part of Finnish culture.
There are more than three million saunas in Finland, a country with only 5.4 million people.
It means that every household has at least one sauna on average.
For generations, Finns have believed that saunas can provide many health benefits.