The sauna is an integral part of Finnish culture. Finland has five million inhabitants and over three million saunas - an average of one per household. Saunas are relaxing as well as beneficial to the user’s health. Saunas are credited with increasing athletic endurance, improving insulin sensitivity, enhancing blood flow, preventing muscle atrophy, stimulating brain cell growth (neurogenesis), learning and memory. Furthermore, research is revealing that saunas promote longevity. A Study reported in the 2015 Journal JAMA Internal Medicine presented evidence that men who utilize saunas frequently may experience better health and increased longevity.
The study analyzed results from 2,315 men aged 42 to 60 who reside in Eastern Finland. The participants were selected between 1984 and 1989 and were observed over 20 years. The study looked at the frequency with which participants utilized a sauna and all-cause mortality - including sudden cardiac death(SCD), fatal coronary heart disease (CHD), fatal cardiovascular disease (CVD). The results were extraordinary.
“The higher frequency of sauna bathing was related to a considerable decreased risk of SCDs, fatal CHDs, fatal CVDs, and all-cause mortality events independently from conventional risk factors.”(2)
Per the study, men who utilized the sauna, two to three times weekly experienced 27% less fatal cardiovascular events than those who only used the sauna one time per week. Even more impressive, men who utilized saunas, four to seven times weekly were 50% less likely to encounter fatal cardiovascular disease. Fatal cardiovascular disease was not the only disease reduced by sauna use. The men who used the sauna, two to three times per week had a 24% lower all-cause mortality rate, and those using it four to seven times had a 40% lower all-cause mortality rate.
Some of the noteworthy constants in this study include temperature and time per sauna session. Temperature was held at 174 degrees Fahrenheit and time was a minimum of 20 minutes per session.
The Science Behind Sauna
Scientifically, there are many similarities between the way your body reacts in a sauna and the way it reacts during cardiovascular exercise. As with exercise, saunas will raise your heart rate to 100 to 150 beats per minute. This increased heart rate allows your body to increase and improve blood flow, lower blood pressure, and improve overall heart function, making you more resistant against cardiovascular issues. It also improves endothelial function (the lining inside blood vessels) in several beneficial ways.
Moreover, there are factors associated with the use of sauna that are intimately involved in increasing longevity. One key factor is the production of “Heat Shock Proteins” or HSPs. Heat shock proteins are produced when your body is under heat stress such as exercise, environmental heat exposure, or the use of a sauna. HSPs help other proteins in cells maintain their structure, which allows these cells to continue to perform their functions while under stress. Cellular proteins are continually under attack. Damage to cellular proteins is associated with morbidity including heart disease, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and others. HSPs help defend your cellular proteins from damage, helping to continually combat these types of medical conditions.
Another scientifically relevant benefit of sauna use is its activation of the FOXO3 gene (a gene known to be associated with longevity). FOXOs are involved in energy metabolism, oxidative stress, apoptosis, cell cycle regulation, metabolic processes, immunity, inflammation and stem cell maintenance. In simple terms, FOXO3 gene activity protects your DNA and proteins and makes the cells more resilient to damage. FOXO3 tends to decrease as we age, therefore, optimizing FOXO3 activity to increase lifespan and reduce age-related decline represents an exciting area of clinical investigation. Simple put: regular use of a sauna appears to improve the function of this vital “youth” gene. The more frequently you use the sauna the greater the benefit.
This study should make a case for regular use of sauna as part of a health optimization program. A 20-minute dry sauna kept at 174 degrees Fahrenheit can boost our body’s functionality by activating the genes we rely on to maintain healthy and youthful. Other benefits of sauna include healthier skin, weight loss, enhanced excretion of toxins thru skin, improved athletic endurance and vascular health (as in better erections). Thus, sauna can help us live longer and age better. If spending 20 min in a sauna is too boring, give Bikram (heat) yoga a try. Combine sauna with a multi-pronged exercise program, a nutrient-dense diet including a glass of red wine with dinner and dark chocolate afterwards to help you live a long, joyful life.
Cheers, here’s to your upgraded life. To learn more about living well, see us at BazaMedical.com