The Finnish sauna is a significant component of Finnish culture. Partaking of a regular sauna session is increasing in popularity is increasing in other areas of Europe as well as the United States. The sauna is a place to relax with friends and family, and a place for physical and mental relaxation as well. According to a new study, relaxing in a sauna may reduce the risk of number of cardiovascular conditions, including heart failure and coronary heart disease; it could also increase longevity. The findings were published online in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine by researchers at the University of Eastern Finland, Kuopio, Finland; Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia; and Catholic University School of Medicine, Rome, Italy
The study authors note that sauna bathing is a health habit associated with better hemodynamic function (blood flow throughout the body); however, it is unknown whether partaking of a sauna on a regular basis can reduce all-cause mortality (death from any cause). Therefore, they conducted a study to assess the association of frequency and duration of sauna bathing with the risk of sudden cardiac death, fatal coronary heart disease, fatal cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality.
The investigators conducted a prospective (forward-looking) study, the Finnish Kuopio Ischemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study, on 2315 middle-aged (age range: 42-60 years) men who resided in Eastern Finland. Baseline examinations were conducted from March 1, 1984, through December 31, 1989. The average follow-up was 20.7 years. During that period, 190 sudden cardiac deaths, 281 fatal cardiac disease events, 407 fatal cardiovascular disease events, and 929 all-cause mortality events occurred. Among the study group, 601 took a sauna once per week, 1513 took a sauna two to three times per week, and 201 took a sauna four to seven times per week.
The number (percentages) of sudden cardiac deaths was: once per week, 61 (10.1%); two to three times per week, 119 (7.8%); and four to seven times per week, 10 (5.0%). The respective numbers (percentages) for fatal coronary heart disease events were: 89 (14.9%), 175 (11.5%), and 17 (8.5%). The respective numbers (percentages) for fatal cardiovascular disease events were: 134 (22.3%), 249 (16.4%), and 24 (12.0%). The respective numbers (percentages) for all-cause mortality were: 295 (49.1%), 572 (37.8%), and 62 (30.8%), After adjusting for cardiovascular disease risk factors, compared to men with one sauna bathing session per week, the risk reduction was 22% for two to three sauna bathing sessions per week and 63% for four to seven sauna bathing sessions per week. Similar relationships were found tor coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality. Compared to men who took a sauna session of less than 11 minutes, the risk reduction was 7% for sauna sessions of 11 to 19 minutes and 52% for sessions lasting more than 19 minutes. Similar relationships were found for fatal coronary heart disease events and fatal cardiovascular disease events, but not for all-cause mortality events.
The authors concluded that an increased frequency of sauna bathing is associated with a reduced risk of sudden cardiac death, coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality. The recommended that further studies should be conducted to determine the potential mechanism that links sauna bathing to cardiovascular health.