A recently published 20-year study of Finnish men associated dry-sauna bathing with a decreased likelihood of death from heart problems, or from other causes .
The more often the men went to the sauna, and the longer they stayed, the lower their risk for sudden cardiac death, fatal coronary heart disease and fatal cardiovascular disease over those 20 years.
The study is the latest to support the health benefits of saunas. Other recent studies indicate those benefits also include relief of tension headaches, body fat loss and stress relief.
List of sauna benefits
Tension headaches: “Regular sauna bathing is a simple, self-directed treatment that is effective for reducing headache pain intensity in CTTH (chronic tension-type headaches),” concluded a study written up in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine this month.
The study randomly assigned 37 people who suffer from tension headaches into two groups. One group received tips and education, and the other group received the same advice and regularly used a sauna for eight weeks.
Body fat: Participants who used saunas saw their body mass index drop by 0.25 to 0.82, with overweight and obese participants losing the most, according to a study published in Scientific World Journal last year.
The 674 study participants were sedentary male and female full-time students ages 19 to 20. They laid in a dry sauna for two sessions of 10 minutes each with a five-minute break.
Body mass index is a measurement of body fat computed using height and weight. Free online BMI calculators from reputable sources like the National Institutes of Health can reveal your BMI and whether it’s considered underweight, a healthy weight, overweight or obese.
Wellness: Time in a sauna “raises your heart rate, so it’s like exercise, only in a more passive way,” integrative-medicine practitioner Dr. Luke Fortney says in a press release issued by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
Fortney, also an assistant professor of family medicine at the school, prescribes sauna bathing for various reasons.
Detoxification: Sauna-induced sweating detoxifies the body of chemicals from pollutants, offering “hygienic benefits,” as Fortney says. Sauna bathing also releases different toxins than exercise releases.
Relaxation: The sweating that happens in a sauna, steam room or hot-room yoga class is more profuse than what people experience during typical exercise, Fortney says. “Exercise is beneficial because of the sweating that happens as a result of moving more vigorously, but sauna therapy is beneficial after exercise to soothe and relax the muscles. Exercise is a form of active internally induced sweating, and sauna is a form of restful externally induced sweating,” he says.
Sauna therapy precautions
For people who are new to sauna therapy, Fortney says to take it easy at first, starting with a lower temperature, drinking enough fluids to avoid becoming lightheaded and not sauna bathing alone.
The write-up of the body mass loss study also noted that people who are more overweight are more prone to dehydration while sauna bathing.
Dr. Rita F. Redberg of the University of California, San Francisco , told Reuters that drinking alcohol beforehand is a bad idea.
For people with a high-risk medical history like kidney disease, liver failure or cardiac conditions, Fortney says to speak to your doctor first, as you may not be able to use sauna therapy.