HELSINKI – Regular visits to the sauna can help lower the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer's disease as well as dying of heart ailments, a Finnish study suggests.
Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland found a link between sauna visits and memory diseases after following more than 2,300 middle-aged Finnish men for more than 20 years.
In the study, men who went to the sauna four to seven times a week were found 66 percent less likely to be diagnosed with dementia, and 65 percent less likely with Alzheimer's disease, than those taking a sauna once a week.
"We have taken into account other lifestyle factors, like physical activity and socioeconomic factors ... There is an independent effect of sauna on these outcomes," said Jari Laukkanen, senior researcher and a professor of clinical medicine at the University of Eastern Finland.
He noted that the study only indicated an association between the sauna and memory diseases, and the findings would have to be fleshed out through further studies with different age groups, other nationalities and women.
The findings, published in the journal Age and Ageing in December, suggested however that the health benefits of sauna could extend from the heart to the brain.
Previous results of the follow-up study have shown that men who spent time in a sauna seven times a week were less likely to die of heart problems, compared to those who only partook once a week. "In the sauna, the heart rate increases and we start to sweat. This is a bit like physical exercise," Laukkonen said.
"After sauna, you may have lower blood pressure, and blood pressure is an important risk factor in cardiovascular and memory diseases. This may be one possible explanation for our findings," Laukkanen said.
Regular bathers at the Finnish Sauna Society, which has around 4,200 members in Helsinki, agree that good health many be linked to the relaxing effects of sauna visits.
Club members go to the sauna several times a week, and in winter cool off with a swim in the icy Baltic Sea.
"I feel relaxed after sauna, and it's a place where I can have a nice conversation with my friends. The social aspect is the best thing about sauna, when you get older," Hannu Pitkanen, a senior member of the sauna society, told Reuters.