Frequent sauna bathing is associated with a reduced risk of stroke, according to a new international study. In a 15-year follow-up, people taking a sauna 4-7 times a week were 61% less likely to suffer a stroke than those taking a sauna once a week. The study, reported in Neurology, was the first prospective large-scale study on the topic.
Stroke is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide, placing a heavy human and economic burden on societies. The reduced risk associated with sauna bathing was found by a team of scientists from the Universities of Eastern Finland, Bristol, Leicester, Atlanta, Cambridge and Innsbruck.
The findings are based on the population-based Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor (KIHD) study and involved 1,628 men and women aged 53 to 74 years living in the eastern part of Finland. Based on their frequency of taking traditional Finnish sauna baths (relative humidity 10-20%), the study participants were divided into three groups: those taking a sauna once a week, those taking a sauna 2-3 times a week, and those taking a sauna 4-7 times a week.
The more frequently saunas were taken, the lower was the risk of stroke. Compared to people taking one sauna session per week, the risk was decreased by 14% among those with 2-3 sessions and 61% among those with 4-7 sessions. The association persisted even when taking into account conventional stroke risk factors, such as age, sex, diabetes, body mass index, blood lipids, alcohol consumption, physical activity and socio-economic status. The strength of association was similar in men and women.
Previous results from the KIHD study at the University of Eastern Finland have shown that frequent sauna bathing also significantly reduces the risk of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality. According to the researchers, mechanisms driving the association of sauna bathing with reduced stroke may include a reduction in blood pressure, stimulation of immune system, a positive impact on the autonomic nervous system, and an improved cardiovascular function. In a recent experimental study, the same group of scientists also showed that sauna bathing has acute effects on the stiffness of the arterial wall, hence influencing blood pressure and cardiac function parameters.