How often do you visit a sauna? And do you believe in its benefits?
Several years ago during my stint in Asia and based in Kathmandu – Nepal, I had my first experience in a sauna. Before the first visit, I had previously heard about saunas and how useful they are. Of course here in North America, saunas are not as ubiquitous as they are in Finland. In fact in that part of the world, almost every household has one! This of course makes it difficult for anyone to conduct a randomized control trial. They are just no controls!; even though the participants in one study (more later) were divided into three groups of sauna frequency and duration. On the other hand, here, saunas remain a luxury and can only be generally found in a few places where the utilization rates are relatively low. In Asia for example, saunas are in many cases owned and managed by hotel chains and hence availability becomes quite exclusive and limited.
One major difference that I discovered between saunas in Asia and the ones here is the set up and control processes. Here, where they exist, users all seat in and share one heated room (dry and wet environments). In Asia on the other hand, there is a small cabin assigned to every client.
Over the last several years, I have been a yellow dog believer in saunas. And this believe is so compelling that each time I am unable to go to the sauna, I feel quite vulnerable. And as it turned out, there are quite a few regulars too in the CVE. Some of them also visit this hot room as often as I do. One thing I observed mixing with these groups is that the room serves as both forum for camaraderie and “bad blood”. One of my sauna buddies once remarked that some people come to saunas here to flaunt their previous authority: a carry-over from their CEO days. In summary, I have found the level of openness and warmth from many visitors quite positive.
And the benefits? I’m not quite sure what others think. From my experience, each time I visit a sauna and have a good sweat, I feel calm, relaxed, more energetic and stress-free. This includes long and uninterrupted sleeping periods.
In a study published online by JAMA Internal Medicine conducted in Finland among males (no gender overtones implied), the researchers came up with very interesting findings. Before we look at details of this study there are some caveats that need to be highlighted : participants were all males; it was an observational study (no cause and effect outcomes expected); they were dry saunas; duration of stay ranged from 104 to 212 (average was 174) degrees Fahrenheit or 40 to 100 degrees celsius; duration ranged from two to 90 minutes; those who benefited most were people who spent twenty or more minutes bathing.
Setting and Findings: Between 1984 and 1989, researchers recruited and followed a cohort (open) of 2315 middle-aged (42 to 60 years) men in eastern Finland. The participants were asked to fill weekly questionnaires (self-reporting) about their sauna weekly frequencies.
Most participants (1500) reported visiting the sauna two or three times weekly; six-hundred visiting once a week; with two hundred frequenting the sauna four to seven times weekly. 12 never used the the steam room at all.
According to the study, once-a-week visitors when compared with daily (seven times a week group) were more likely to die from sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), heart disease (HD) and cardiovascular disease (CVD). When both groups of visitors were compared, the study found that in the latter cohort, the risk of dying from SCA, HD and CVD was 63 per cent lower when compared with the former group. Some of the baseline indicators included good pressure, electrocardiogram, cholesterol, C-reactive protein, smoking, alcohol use and frequency of exercise. In its findings, the researchers concluded that frequency and duration of stay were inversely correlated to lower risks of sudden cardiac death, fatal coronary heart disease, and fatal cardiovascular disease over the 20-year period of time.; suggesting that frequent and long sauna durations were beneficial to our hearts. This association remained unchanged even after certain confounding variables were controlled.
According to the study, in 2011, the team retrospectively reviewed hospital documents including death certificates and autopsy reports to assess participant cause of death.
Mortality and cause of death Percentage of Sauna Study Participants in Finland
Source: Study Data
According to available data on all mortality (1807 cases) distribution collected and reported retrospectively, the graph illustrates that the percentages of mortality among sauna cohort participants were 10%, 16%,22% and 52% in the SCA, CD, CVD and other respectively.
Finally, with regard to sudden cardia death the research team reported that ten percent of the once-a-week sauna users died; eight percent of those who used the sauna two or three times weekly and five percent of those who went four to seven times per week also died.
So, is it time to check out our well-maintained and managed sauna in the club house? Your call, check it out!