What if the sauna was good for your health? Many athletes, after an intensive sports session, are rewarded with a “sauna moment”. In addition to the pleasure of relaxing in a restorative heat, the effects of the sauna would be even better than you think. The journal Neurology revealed in an article that saunas were associated with a significant reduction in the risk of stroke.
“The results are very solid (…) Those who went to a sauna four to seven times a week were about 60% less likely to have a stroke than those who went only once a week,” said Setor Kunutsor, co-author of the study and researcher at the University of Bristol in the UK, in an email sent to TIME.
With his colleagues, they followed over 15 years more than 1,600 elderly people on average 63 years and no cardiovascular history. Participants completed questionnaires on how often they went to the sauna. Their cholesterol levels, blood pressure and other factors that may influence the risk of stroke have also been tested.
During the study period, 155 strokes were noted. For the researchers “those who went to the sauna 4 to 7 times a week had a 60% reduced risk of having a stroke. And this, compared to the participants who went there only once. To explain this state of affairs, the authors recall “the hypotensive nature of this steam bath”.
In the end, the study shows that the probability of having a stroke is reduced by 60% for very regular sauna users. The results remained the same after taking into account other health and lifestyle factors that could influence the risk of stroke, such as high cholesterol, smoking and diabetes.
Note, however, that even if the researchers tried to remove as much bias as possible (age, sex, tobacco, diabetes, cholesterol etc.), the study was nonetheless conducted on Finns, who do not have the same mode of life as the entire world population (and who also often have a sauna at home!). Yet, Kunutsor explains that he does not see “why similar results would not be observed in other populations”.
This findings are probably related to blood pressure decreases associated with sauna use, as hypertension is a known risk factor for stroke, says Kunutsor. Sauna indeed reduces pressure and arterial stiffness.
Other recent research has established the same connection between a sauna session and a healthy heart. Nonetheless, caution is still recommended for those unfamiliar with saunas: it is advisable to start with sessions of only a few minutes, then increase the duration, without ever exceeding 15 minutes in a row.