No self-respecting Finnish home would be without its sauna, and if you our male readers are fortunate enough to be members of a leisure centre or health club that boasts a sauna, then as this article will clearly illustrate, it may offer you more than relaxation, a good sweat and an effective body detox. Indeed it may encourage those men who don’t either like the prospect of extreme sweating or conversely sitting on a hot wooden bench enclosed in a confined area, to re-evaluate the benefits of a sauna session. According to new research, the health advantages outweigh any of the slight and insignificant personal disadvantages, and just might help your life span to be extended – read on!
Sauna bathing and the heart
Previous studies have established that there are considerable health benefits in relation to cardiovascular health, enhanced blood circulation and lowered blood pressure associated with a session spent in the sauna. It is only research conducted in Finland however, which has truly investigated this link by studying 2,315 men, all of whom straddled the full breadth of the socio-economic groups, all residing in Eastern Finland and aged between 42-60 years. The research team which included Dr. Jari A. Laukkanen, asked the participant males to complete a questionnaire divulging how many times they used a sauna per week, the duration of each session and what approximate temperature was utilized during the sauna.
This information was collated and retained for a period of 21 years with the results recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine (Journal of the American Medical Association)
So what did the research establish?
1. The potential of sudden death resulting from cardiac problems was 22% lower following just 2-3 visits to a sauna and a whopping 63% risk reduction for those men who ‘bathed’ in a sauna between 4-7 times weekly.
2. The possibility of death following heart disease was reduced by 23% for those males who used a sauna 2-3 times weekly, and again a significant 48% decreased risk for men who availed themselves of a sauna 4-7 times per week.
3. For those men in the study i.e. aged 42-60 it was cited that overall the possibility of death via a stroke or heart disease was reduced by 27% if a sauna was used 2-3 times per week, and moreover a massive 50% lowering of risk if saunas were utilized 4-7 times weekly. The research team continued by stating that “more frequent use, longer times per session decreased odds even more, but cause-and-effect link not proven”
4. At this juncture it’s worth noting that men who used the sauna on a daily basis during the 20 year study period were less likely to die as a result from any other cause. However, the JAMA report stated that frequent rather than ‘daily saunas’ were sufficient for the study group to realise a 40% reduction in deaths for other non-cardiac related causes.
Before this Finnish study, cardiologists including Dr. Paul Thompson medical director of cardiology in Hartford USA had actively discouraged their cardiac patients from using the sauna due the excessive heat required. However, following the findings via the Scandinavian study he states that “Maybe we shouldn’t be so restrictive with our patients.”
Is the study objective?
Being somewhat sensibly objective, Dr Thompson also cites that people who use saunas are probably the same people who both actively pursue and maintain a healthy lifestyle encompassing all aspects of daily living.
A further slant on this circumspect living theme comes via Dr. Rita Redberg, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco, who alludes that possibly the relationship between men who take saunas on a regular basis and the link to an extended life span, may be positively impacted by other factors such as relaxation time, and or comradeship, and concludes this psychological theme by stating that the experience of a sauna session promotes all inclusive holistic benefits.
Will any old hot room suffice?
Currently it appears be a resounding NO, as any cardiac benefits are only realised from the dry air, which is only accessed via the time – honoured Finnish Sauna, with a humidity level between 10-20%, and the temperature sandwiched between 176 degrees and 212 degree Fahrenheit.
Does it matter how long I spend in the sauna?
To fully benefit from the health benefits a quick ‘hop in & out’ will not suffice, as according to the Finnish study the time spent in the sauna has a significant bearing on death as a result from all causes. The study team noted that when men’s sessions lasted 11 -19 minutes their risk of dying from via any causative factor was reduced by 7% as opposed to those males who sat in a sauna for less than 11 minutes. However, increasing the session time to longer than 19 minutes, further reduced their risk of mortality from all causes to 52% as opposed to their male counterparts whose sauna time was less than 11 minutes.
Where is the research data involving women detailed in this article?
The simple answer is as yet there isn’t any! NOT because we are less important than our male equivalents. Rather the reason is that thus far NO research or indeed separate studies involving females have been done. Nonetheless the Finnish research study team has stated that a female only participant independent study is necessary to provide a male vs. female comparison. In addition, a further study is required involving both dissimilar age groups and moreover an investigation with applicants from populations where a session in a ‘Finnish’ sauna is not an everyday occurrence, such as the UK for example.
A note of caution!
A sauna session is NOT recommended following a night out on the booze, as alcohol has a dehydrating consequence which might have a detrimental effect on the body’s aptitude to manage fluid losses as a result of sweating. This advice also applies to people who are taking any form of prescribed tranquilizers or sedation causing medications, as they risk falling asleep whilst in the sauna with the potentially dangerous upshot of spending an unsafe period of time in the sauna booth.
Prudence also needs to be exercised by pregnant women in the first trimester (1st 3 months) as the exceedingly high temperatures, which of course is the basis of any sauna has been known to be a recognized causative factor of birth defects.
It appears that a sauna session is a valuable tool particularly in respect of Men’s health, however, for all you sauna newbie’s out there, our advice is to try a few short sessions before you take the plunge and sign on for a year’s membership.