In 1984, Tanjaniina Laukkanen, MSc from the University of Eastern Finland and colleagues from Emory University and Catholic University in Rome, Italy, began a study of the relationship between the use of saunas and the risk of death from heart-related causes.
The researchers first determined the frequency and duration of sauna use by a cohort of about 2300 men aged from 42 to 60 years. They followed the health of the men for an average of about 21 years, focusing on heart-related causes of death sudden cardiac death (SCD), fatal coronary heart disease (CHD), fatal cardiovascular disease (CVD), as well as all-cause mortality.
Participants reported using saunas once per week (601), 2 to 3 times per week (1513), 4 to 7 times per week (201). Compared to men reporting only 1 session per week, there were significant decreases in the risk of SCD, CHD, CVD and all-cause mortality for men who used saunas more frequently.
In addition, there were also significant associations between the duration of sauna sessions and the risk of death. Compared with men whose sauna sessions were less than 11 minutes, those who reported sessions from 11 to 19 minutes had a 7 percent reduced risk of death from these causes, and those whose sessions were longer than 19 minutes had a 52 percent reduced risk of death from any of the cardiac causes.
The authors concluded Increased frequency of sauna bathing is associated with a reduced risk of SCD, CHD, CVD, and all-cause mortality.
ACSH s Dr. Ruth Kava noted, These results are intriguing, but we must remember that this type of study can show associations, but not causal relationships. We cannot rule out that the men who used saunas more frequently or for longer sessions were healthier to begin with, and they may have also had healthier lifestyles. In addition, the authors did not present any relevant mechanisms as to how saunas and health might be linked. Further research is needed to explain how saunas might have had an impact on these men s health.