In a recent study, researchers in Finland how the use of a sauna benefits one’s health.
Sauna bathing has been used in Finland for thousands of years, both for relaxation and for its purported health benefits. However, evidence on the health benefits of sauna use has been mixed. With this research gap in mind, Finnish scientists undertook an extensive literature review to determine if there was a relationship between sauna bathing and health or not. The study was published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
The researchers searched the MEDLINE and EMBASE databases for observational studies and trials that emphasized traditional Finnish saunas, as it is this sauna form that has been studied the most. The researchers searched all data on these databases from their inception, until February 24, 2018. Some of the search terms they used included sauna bath, Finnish, cardiovascular disease, dementia, and depression. The researchers limited their search to studies that were written in English, and which were conducted on adult human beings.
Using a sauna benefits many illnesses
The major findings were as follows.
1. Reduces high blood pressure
The researchers found that sauna bathing appears to have a positive impact on blood pressure. However, limited evidence exists as to whether sauna bathing helps in reducing elevated blood pressure in the long-term.
2. Reduces the risk of sudden cardiac death
The few studies that exist suggest that regular sauna bathing can reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death, as well as stroke.
3. Lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia
One study showed that men who used a sauna four to seven times a week had a 66% lower risk of dementia, and a 65% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
4. Improves respiratory diseases
The studies suggest that sauna bathing can improve lung function, such as lung capacity and volume. Sauna bathing may also reduce the incidence of the common cold, as well as respiratory diseases such as asthma and pneumonia.
5. Reduces the risk of other ailments
They found that sauna bathing was also related to improvements in, or reduced risk of developing, ailments such as osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, headache disorders, and psychosis.
The researchers noted limitations to their review. In particular, the studies they reviewed contained mixed results, and most of the studies did not include a control group, in which a certain group of participants did not use a sauna. Also, many of the studies were done some decades ago.
Sauna benefits your general health
The application of this study to the public is that using a sauna benefits one’s health, in general. However, more research must be done to conclusively identify exact causal relations between sauna bathing and specific illnesses and ailments.
Written by Raymond Quan, MASc, MBA
Reference: Laukkanen et al. “Cardiovascular and Other Health Benefits of Sauna Bathing: A Review of the Evidence.” Mayo Clin Proc. August 2018; 93(8):1111-1121