Frequent sauna bathing may protect against dementia

Frequent sauna bathing can reduce the risk of dementia in men, according to a recent study at the University of Eastern Finland.

The study, led by Jari Laukkanen, a professor of clinical medicine, followed more than 2,300 middle-aged Finnish men (aged 42-60) for more than 20 years and found that the most frequent sauna users had the lowest risk of dementia.

Men who went to the sauna four to seven times a week were 66% less likely to be diagnosed with dementia, and 65% less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, than those taking a sauna once a week.

This is the first time the effects of sauna bathing on the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia have been studied.

“We have taken into account other lifestyle factors, like physical activity and socioeconomic factors … There is an independent effect of sauna on these outcomes,” Laukkanen reportedly said. He also noted that more research is required on different age groups, other nationalities, and women.

Previously released results from the same study suggested that men who take frequent saunas also have a lower risk of sudden cardiac death (SCD) and all-cause mortality.

For fatal coronary heart disease the risk was 48% lower for 4 to 7 sauna sessions per week compared to once a week. And for all-cause mortality, 4 to 7 times per week was associated with a 40% reduction in risk compared to once per week.

“Further studies are warranted to establish the potential mechanism that links sauna bathing and cardiovascular health,” the study said.

Reuters quotes Laukkonen as saying, “In the sauna, the heart rate increases and we start to sweat. This is a bit like physical exercise.

“After sauna, you may have lower blood pressure, and blood pressure is an important risk factor in cardiovascular and memory diseases. This may be one possible explanation for our findings.”

In Finland, sauna is part of the national culture. There are an estimated two million saunas in Finland, for a population of 5.3 million.

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