Saunas linked to lower stroke risk

Taking a Finnish-style sauna several times a week may lower the risk of stroke, according to research in the journal Neurology.

The study, however, conducted by Setor Kunutsor of the University of Bristol, UK, comes with a few important caveats. First, the research relied on volunteers self-reporting, and, second, the work was designed to find correlations between sauna frequency and stroke, but not to identify how, or if, the two events are linked.

Kunutsor also makes the pertinent point that his research is limited to Finnish-style saunas and thus cannot be extended to cover other types of heat-induced relaxation activities, such as hot tubs or steam rooms.{%recommended 5529%}

To make his findings, the researcher enlisted 1628 people – average age, 63 – and followed them for 15 years. None of the volunteers had a prior history of stroke. During the period, 155 suffered one, and these were measured against how often each of the victims had a sauna, with the results expressed as strokes per 100,000 person-years.

Kunutsor found that the stroke rate was 8.1 for people who took one sauna a week, 7.4 for those who enjoyed two or three, and 2.8 for those who had between four and seven.

“These results are exciting because they suggest that this activity that people use for relaxation and pleasure may also have beneficial effects on your vascular health,” Kunutsor.

“Sauna bathing is a safe activity for most healthy people and even people with stable heart problems. More research is needed to confirm this finding and to understand the ways that saunas affect stroke risk.”

The author cites previous studies that linked saunas with reduced risk of low blood pressure, dementia and cardiovascular disease.

However, not all studies have reported positive results. A 1976 paper in the Israel Journal of Medical Sciences looking at the health effects of exposure to Finnish saunas concluded that the practice “involves dangers to the bather’s health, which may appear suddenly” and without warning.

The study monitored the effects of taking a sauna on 60 volunteers of various ages. The researchers noted “marked physiological changes”, including three cases of fainting, one angina attack and electrocardiograph readings that indicated “coronary insufficiency”.

The volunteers all also recorded rectal temperatures near or above 39 degrees Celsius, which doesn’t sound very relaxing at all.

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