Researchers studied 1,628 men and women aged 53 to 74, free of stroke at the start. They had data on body mass index, alcohol consumption, smoking, blood pressure, blood lipid levels, and other health and behavioral characteristics that affect cardiovascular health.
The participants reported how often they took traditional Finnish saunas and how long they stayed in the sauna, and the researchers followed them for an average of 15 years. There were 155 strokes over the period. The study is in the journal Neurology.
After adjusting for other variables, they found that compared with people who took saunas once a week, those who took them two to three times weekly were 12 percent less likely to have a stroke. People who took saunas four to seven times a week reduced their risk for stroke by 62 percent.
Although the researchers found a strong effect independent of other variables, the study was observational and cannot prove causality.
Still, there are plausible reasons saunas might be protective. “Temperature increases, even of 1 or 2 degrees Celsius, can limit inflammatory processes in the body and reduce arterial stiffness,” said the senior author, Dr. Jari A. Laukkanen, a professor of medicine at the University of Eastern Finland. “It’s possible that steam rooms or hot tubs could produce similar results.”
Source: The New York Times