Some like it hot: Saunas may provide cardio-protective benefits

This could get steamy: By frequently taking saunas, men may reduce their risk of cardiac-related fatalities, according to a study published online Feb. 23 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Tanjaniina Laukkanen, MSc, of the University of Eastern Finland’s Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition in Kuopio, and colleagues accessed data from the Finnish Kuopio Ischemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study to explore the association between sauna practices and cardiovascular events. They noted that in Finland, most people take sauna baths at least once a week. Some research has suggested that saunas may improve cardiac and circulatory functions.

Their sample included 2,315 men who participated in the Kuopio study, with baseline exams occurring between 1984 and 1989. The mean follow-up was 18.8 years, with outcomes of interest being sudden cardiac death (SCD), fatal cardiovascular disease (CVD) and all-cause mortality.

They found the rate for SCD was 10.1 percent, 7.8 percent and 5 percent for participants whose frequency of saunas was one, two to three and four to seven times a week, respectively. They noted a similar pattern for fatal coronary heart disease (14.9 percent, 11.5 percent and 8.5 percent); for fatal CVD (22.3 percent, 16.4 percent and 12 percent); and all-cause mortality (49.1 percent, 37.8 percent and 30.8 percent).

Higher frequency of saunas appeared to reduce the risk of fatal events in adjusted analyses. Men who took two to three weekly saunas had a 23 percent lower risk of fatal coronary heart disease than the once weekly group; taking four to seven saunas a week reduced that risk 48 percent. Overall, four to seven saunas a week nipped all-cause mortality by 40 percent.

“The higher frequency of sauna bathing was related to a considerable decreased risk of SCDs, fatal [coronary heart diseases], fatal CVDs, and all-cause mortality events independently from conventional risk factors,” Laukkanen et al observed. They added that Finnish saunas use water poured over hot rocks, which is different from methods in steam rooms and some other types of saunas.