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Feb 27, 2015

Sauna Use Linked to Improved Heart Health

Study follows sauna bathers for over two decades and finds lower rates of sudden cardiac death among most frequent users.

Regular sauna bathing cuts risk of sudden cardiac death for men by up to two-thirds, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The Finnish Kuopio Ischemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study was designed to investigate risk factors for heart disease in middle-aged men from Eastern Finland. Among the many risk factors analyzed, researchers collected information on sauna use, which has been shown to lower blood pressure and to improve heart function. However, little is known about how sauna bathing impacts cardiovascular health and whether regular sauna reduces long-term risk of heart disease and heart-related death.

To learn more, researchers collected information about sauna use and many other health factors from more than 2,300 men between 1984 and 1989. After following participants for up to 23 years, researchers compared risk of heart-related death among men with varying levels of sauna use.

Compared with men who used a sauna once a week, sauna bathing 2–3 times a week reduced risk for sudden cardiac death by 22%. Sauna bathing 4–7 times a week reduced risk by 63%. Similar benefits were also found related to risk for heart disease, heart-related death and death from any cause. Researchers found that men using a sauna for more than 19 minutes at a time had half the risk of sudden cardiac death compared to those bathing for less than 11 minutes.

Experts encourage future research on the topic to better understand exactly how sauna use affects heart health. Sauna bathing leads to sweating and an increase in heart rate, which may have positive effects on risk factors for heart disease. Experts wonder, however, whether the relaxation associated with sauna use or the fact that those using saunas have plenty of leisure time has something to do with this association. With additional studies, experts hope to learn more about what links sauna bathing and heart health. In the meantime, experts support use of activities like sauna bathing that help reduce stress and reduce risk for heart disease.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is sudden cardiac death?

  • Sudden cardiac death can result from sudden cardiac arrest, when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. Sudden cardiac arrest must be immediately addressed with CPR and medical attention to improve chances of survival.
  • Who is most at risk for sudden cardiac death?

  • Men are 2-3 times more likely to have sudden cardiac arrest than women. Risk also increases with age, particularly in those with heart disease or other cardiovascular conditions, such as an arrhythmia or heart failure. It is important to address any cardiovascular risk factors or conditions to reduce risk for sudden cardiac arrest and death.

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