Does the Combination of Finnish Sauna Bathing and Other Lifestyle Factors Confer Additional Health Benefits?

A recently published paper from Mayo Clinic, authored by Seto K Kunutsor, MD, PhD and Jari A. Laukkanen, MD, PhD explores sauna bathing and its link to health benefits beyond its use for leisure and relaxation. The paper analyzes observational and interventional studies that suggest that regular or frequent sauna bathing reduces the incidence of vascular and nonvascular diseases, such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, dementia, and respiratory conditions; may improve the severity of conditions such as musculoskeletal disorders, COVID-19, headache, and influenza; and increases the life span. It also summarizes the available evidence linking the combined effects of Finnish sauna bathing and other risk factors on vascular outcomes, including cardiovascular disease and intermediate cardiovascular phenotypes, nonvascular outcomes, and mortality.

The paper’s authors conclude that, while sauna bathing has traditionally been used for leisure and pleasure purposes, the epidemiologic and interventional evidence suggests that regular sauna bathing is consistently linked with an array of health benefits and also increases lifespan. The evidence suggests that frequent sauna bathing may augment the beneficial effects of protective risk factors, such as physical activity and fitness, or offset the adverse effects of other risk factors. The effects of sauna are independent of physical activity; hence, when used in combination, it can exert substantial benefits compared with physical activity alone.

For people who genuinely cannot engage in physical activity, the use of sauna alone may be enough to confer beneficial health outcomes, given that some of the clinical effects of sauna are similar to those produced by moderate- or high-intensity physical activity. Definitive trials that make head-to-head comparisons of sauna and physical activity/exercise are also lacking and are urgently warranted.

Article Highlights

  • Finnish sauna bathing, a passive heat therapy characterized by exposure to a high environmental temperature for a brief period, is linked with myriad health benefits, particularly on the vascular system.
  • Evidence suggests that frequent sauna bathing is an emerging protective risk factor that may potentiate the beneficial effects of protective risk factors, such as physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness, or attenuate or offset the adverse effects of other risk factors.
  • Interventional evidence shows that 8 weeks of regular sauna bathing sessions combined with exercise produces a mean reduction in systolic blood pressure of about 8 mm Hg.
  • Frequent sauna bathing appears to offset the adverse impact of systemic inflammation, low socioeconomic status, and high systolic blood pressure on outcomes such as cardiovascular disease, pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and mortality.
  • Adding frequent sauna sessions will substantially augment the benefits of physical activity. For people who are unable to meet physical activity guidelines or are unable to exercise at all because of physical activity limitations, regular use of sauna may be an alternative lifestyle strategy to mitigate the risk of diseases due to other risk factors.

Read the full study here:

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