Five scientifically-supported health benefits of saunas

Imagine this… you’re going about your day, feeling perfectly fine, when suddenly you’re unable to speak, move your arm or see out of both eyes.

It’s a scary prospect. But this is what happens to nearly 800,000 stroke sufferers every year. Luckily, there’s a lot you can do to decrease the risk of it happening to you.

Eating fruits and veggies, getting your daily dose of cardio, avoiding alcohol and ditching cigarettes all do wonders for your stroke risk. Hopefully, you’re already doing a lot of these things.

But there may be one stroke prevention habit you haven’t thought of, maybe because it just seems to good to be true. In fact, it takes such little effort you may not even know it has any impact on your stroke risk.

But it does… It can lower your risk by over 60 percent!

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Saunas slay stroke risk while you sit

A new study from researchers at the Universities of Eastern Finland, Bristol, Leicester, Emory, Cambridge and Innsbruck found that spending regular time in the sauna can lower stroke risk significantly.

Their study included 1,628 men and women between 53 and 74 years old. Study participants were split into three groups: people who spent time in the sauna once a week; people who spent time in the sauna two to three times a week; and people who spent time in a sauna four to seven times a week.

And guess what? The more time people spent in the sauna, the lower their stroke risk.

People who sat in the sauna two to three times per week were 14 percent less likely to have a stroke than people who only did it once per week. People who visited the sauna four to seven times per week were even better off. They were 61 percent less likely to have a stroke than people who only went to the sauna once per week.

Why did sauna time have such an astonishing effect on stroke risk?

Well, researchers say it could be any one of these five scientifically-supported health benefits of saunas:

  1. Saunas lower blood pressure
  2. Saunas stimulate the immune system
  3. Saunas positively impact the autonomic nervous system
  4. Saunas improve cardiovascular function
  5. A 2017 study also found that saunas help decrease the artery stiffness that contributes to high blood pressure, heart attack risk and, of course, stroke risk.

Starting a regular sauna habit

Wondering how you can make sauna bathing a regular habit? The first step is finding a nearby sauna. You’d be surprised how common they are. You’ll find them at spas, gyms, health clubs… even your local YMCA.

If you’re serious about squeezing in sauna time, you could also invest in a personal, portable sauna for $100-$200. It’s an infrared sauna, so it’s not quite the same as a hot stone Finnish sauna like the type used in the study. That means there’s no guarantee it will have the exact same benefits. But it’s a lot more convenient, and it’s known to help with anxiety, stress, pain, weight loss, circulation and other health challenges. So, it may be worth the investment.

No matter where or how you squeeze in your sauna time, be sure to practice sauna safety. If you have unstable angina, chest pain or recently had a heart attack, you should stay out of saunas. Saunas are also risky for older people with low blood pressure.

If you don’t fall into any of these categories, then you can sauna bathe freely… as long as you follow these rules:

  • Don’t drink alcohol before spending time in a sauna.
  • Always limit your sauna time to 15-20 minutes.
  • Drink two to four glasses of water when you get out.
  • Never go into a sauna when you’re feeling ill.
  • If you start feeling sick while you’re in a sauna, that’s your cue to leave.

If you follow these sauna bathing tips, you should stay safe… and hopefully stroke-free too.

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Sources:

  1. Frequent sauna bathing reduces risk of stroke — MedicalXpress. Retrieved May 8, 2018.
  2. Kunustor, et al. “Sauna bathing reduces the risk of stroke in Finnish men and women: A prospective cohort study.” — Neurology, 2018.
  3. Stroke — Mayo Clinic. Retrieved May 8, 2018.
  4. What is stroke? — National Stroke Association. Retrieved May 8, 2018.
  5. Sauna Health Benefits: Are saunas healthy or harmful? — Harvard Medical School. Retrieved May 8, 2018.

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Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.