Sauna “bathing” is a form of passive heat therapy which originates from Finland and is mostly associated with Nordic countries.
It is used mainly for pleasure and relaxation, and involves spending short periods of time (usually five to 20 minutes) in temperatures of 80°C to 100°C, interspersed with moments of cooling-off in a pool or shower.
Although there are other forms of heat therapy such as Turkish baths, infrared saunas and Waon therapy, the traditional Finnish sauna is the most examined to date. In a 2015 study, scientists from the University of Eastern Finland recorded the sauna-bathing habits of 2 300 men, and tracked their health for more than two decades.
They found that those who used saunas regularly suffered from dramatically fewer deaths from heart disease or stroke. In a follow-up study of the same group, regular saunas were found to substantially reduce the risk of dementia.
Research this year followed 1 621 men over 22 years. Regular saunas (four to seven times a week) slashed the risk of high blood pressure by 50%.
Scientists are not certain how saunas reduce heart disease, but one theory is that they contribute to a reduction in high blood pressure. Additionally, the heat leads to increased blood flow, which improves cardiovascular function.
Sauna bathing has been shown to produce effects similar to that of exercise. In fact, scientists found that people who combine exercise and saunas have a substantially reduced risk of dying from any disease.
Taking saunas has also been linked with an improvement in pain and symptoms associated with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Evidence also revealed regular saunas reduce tension headaches and colds and improve breathing in asthma patients.