The Strange Connection Between Saunas and Longevity

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Frequenting the sauna appears to be connected to a reduced risk of number of cardiovascular conditions including heart failure and coronary heart disease and ultimately lead to a longer life, according to a new study in journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Researchers collected health data for more than 2,300 Finnish men who used the sauna between 1984 and 1985. The researchers followed up on the participants in 2011. Higher frequency and longer duration of sauna use was correlated with less risk for heart problems and a lower chance of mortality.

“More is better,” says study author Jari Laukkanen of the time spent in the sauna. “It seems that with more than four sauna sessions per week had a lowest risk, but also those with two to three sauna sessions may get some benefits.”

The benefits of sauna use are much like those of exercise, according to the study. Sauna use increases heart rate and greatly boosts sweat levels like light or moderate exercise does. Overall, sauna use also leads to “better relaxation and well-being,” Laukkanen said.

Despite the study’s limitations—it looked only at men, it was associative—Laukkanen, a cardiologist at the University of Eastern Finland, said he thinks it can be generalized for women as well. Still, he added, further tests would be needed for more definitive evidence.

Before you head to the sauna it’s worth noting that not all saunas are built equal. The study looked specifically at Finnish saunas, which typically have very dry air and a temperature between 80 and 100 degrees Celsius—that’s a minimum of 176 degrees Fahrenheit.

While studying saunas may seem like a fringe research interest in the United States, saunas’ ubiquity in Finland prompted Laukkanen to investigate their impact on health. Of the 2,327 Finnish men initially reached for the study, only 12 said they do not use a sauna.

Read next: What Longevity Looked Like in the 1950s

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