A new research review has plenty of good news for people who love a good sauna session: Studies overwhelmingly suggest that the relaxing habit is also a healthy one.
A paper published Wednesday in Mayo Clinic Proceedings gathered existing findings on Finnish sauna bathing, the practice of spending time in relatively dry rooms heated to between 80 and 100 degrees Celsius, interspersed with periods of cooling. The results were culled from more than 70 studies published up through February 2018.
Overall, the research suggests that “sauna bathing, an activity used for the purposes of pleasure, wellness, and relaxation, is linked to a remarkable array of health benefits,” the authors conclude. Here are a few.
Saunas may improve vascular health
Research suggests that saunas can improve vascular health in a variety of ways, from lowering blood pressure and risk factors for hypertension to reducing bathers’ likelihood of fatal heart disease, stroke and neurological decline. Some studies included in the review did not account for things like reverse causation — the notion that healthier people may be more likely to use saunas, as opposed to saunas making people healthier — but more recent research has suggested that spending time in the sauna can directly affect your blood pressure, vascular function, oxidative stress, inflammation levels and more, according to the paper. In fact, some researchers have drawn comparisons between the benefits drawn from sauna bathing and moderate- or high-intensity exercise.
Saunas can improve respiratory function
Sauna bathing has been shown to enhance lung capacity and function, potentially resulting in improved breathing for people with respiratory conditions such as asthma and bronchitis, according to the paper. Sauna regulars may also have fewer common colds and flus and a lower risk of pneumonia, the study adds, suggesting that sauna bathing may also boost the body’s immune response.
They promote pain relief
Research has shown that people suffering from musculoskeletal conditions, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, report lessened discomfort after spending time in a sauna. When interspersed with cooling periods, sauna stints may also boost the body’s natural painkilling response, according to the paper. Similar results have been observed among people with chronic headaches, the paper says.
Saunas may be good for your mood
Though many people use saunas specifically to reduce stress, research about how they affect mental health is scarce. Nonetheless, the review notes that time in saunas can boost the production of feel-good hormones such as endorphins, possibly leading to stress relief and an improved mood. Thermal therapy in general, though not specifically Finnish saunas, has also been linked with a reduced risk of depression, the review notes.