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Article: Sauna Use and Longevity: Is Sauna Usage Really a Longevity Hack?

Sauna Use and Longevity: Is Sauna Usage Really a Longevity Hack?

Sauna Use and Longevity: Is Sauna Usage Really a Longevity Hack?

Written by Chris Lang

Bathing in donkey milk. Wearing a mask made with crocodile dung. Killing young women and bathing in their blood. These are just some of the shocking and downright disturbing practices used by historical figures with one goal – to stay young. Though the quest for youth and longevity is still very much in full force, it has since evolved to more sophisticated (and less gruesome) practices. In this new world of scientific pursuit of a longer life, it’s all about the sauna – longevity without any extravagance.

Once viewed solely as a relaxing pastime, sauna bathing has become a scientifically endorsed method for obtaining numerous health benefits. But is longer life one of these benefits of sauna use? That’s what this article is here to uncover.

It will dive into the research on sauna, longevity, and their potential correlation, paying particular attention to Finland, a country renowned for its deep-rooted sauna culture that has garnered global interest. Let’s begin!

The Tradition and Popularity of Sauna Use

To understand how regular sauna bathing has become as celebrated as it is today, you must go back to the beginning – the roots of sauna use in the modern world.

Understanding the Finnish Sauna Phenomenon

Though sauna-like structures have existed for thousands of years, the Finnish were the ones who introduced the concept of modern sauna to the Western world. Saunas have been a crucial part of Finnish culture for centuries.

At first, this was nothing more than a steam bath within a small room encircled by wooden panels. From its humble beginnings as a relaxation spot for field workers, the Finnish sauna took on numerous roles, from a holy site for purification ceremonies to the childbirth room.

While the sauna has since been stripped of some of its historical functions, it has retained its cultural significance and even become somewhat of a symbol of the Finnish identity. Today, Finland is the first place scientists and curious individuals turn to when trying to understand the health benefits of sauna use. This shouldn’t be surprising because most Finnish use a sauna at least once a week, and there’s even a designated day for doing so (Saturday).

Sauna Varieties and Their Features

The traditional sauna from Finland is often called a “dry sauna.” As this alternative name suggests, traditional saunas have low humidity (usually around 10%). The low humidity is contrasted by a high temperature reaching up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Traditionally, Finnish saunas use wood burning as a heat source. Newer versions, however, rely on electric heaters for more precise temperature control. Regardless of the heat source, the conventional sauna works by heating the air, which, in turn, heats your body. Due to how hot it can get within one of these saunas, limiting time spent in the sauna to roughly 15 minutes at a time is advisable.

However, traditional saunas are just one type of sauna used widely. In fact, there are a few of them nowadays. However, this article will only focus on the one type that has proven as effective (if not more) than traditional saunas. The type in question is the infrared sauna.

Originating in Japan, infrared saunas have gained popularity for their unique approach to heat therapy. You see, these saunas don’t heat the air around you. Instead, they use infrared heaters to warm your body directly. This novel approach results in a lower ambient temperature (up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit) and a deeper heat penetration into the body tissues.

Thanks to the lower temperature, infrared saunas can be used for longer, ideally up to 30 minutes at a time. Like saunas in general, there are several subtypes of infrared saunas with varying features, such as the infrared ozone sauna that incorporates ozone therapy into the sauna experience.

Though these sauna types approach heat therapy differently, their direct impacts are almost the same. As your body gets exposed to heat, a thermoregulatory response kicks in. Your autonomic nervous system gets activated first, which leads to an increased heart rate, dilated blood vessels, and excessive sweating.

The increased blood circulation resulting from heat stress is what brings about most of the health benefits of regular sauna use.

The Science Behind Sauna Longevity

By now, the health benefits of sauna bathing are well-documented. Do one Google search for “What is the benefit of a sauna?” and you’ll see just how much. From the benefits of sauna detox to improved cardiovascular health, the positive effects of sauna bathing have captured widespread attention. Let’s explore these benefits in more detail before examining what research says on sauna, longevity, and their potential connection.

Investigating the Health Benefits of Sauna Use

Here are just some of the most notable health benefits associated with frequent sauna use:

  • Improving heart health. A 2015 study found that frequent sauna users (four to seven times a week) have a lower risk of sudden cardiac death, coronary heart disease, and all-cause mortality. But more on that later.

  • Lowering blood pressure. A 2021 research has demonstrated that a single sauna session may reduce high blood pressure. The research also quotes an older study that found that the same effect can be accomplished long-term through regular use of a sauna.

  • Aiding muscle recovery. The body’s response to the heat produced by a sauna can aid muscle recovery in a few ways. Most notably, the increased blood circulation speeds up the body’s natural healing process by facilitating a more efficient nutrient delivery.

  • Improving brain health. In a 2017 study published in the Age and Ageing journal, researchers suggest that regular sauna use may lower the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and otherwise improve brain function.

  • Boosting skin health. Several older studies have found that sauna use can significantly improve your skin health. In this regard, the positive effects of sauna bathing include unclogging pores, preventing (or soothing) acne breakouts, enhancing the overall skin tone, and relieving the symptoms of some skin conditions (e.g., psoriasis).

Longevity and Sauna: What Research Shows

Though all these effects of regular sauna use are pretty impressive, the goal is to explore the sauna’s potential to promote longevity. That’s why this article will only focus on the relatively new study (2015) published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal. After all, this is the study that shows the most promise in understanding the potential link between regular sauna use, cardiovascular health, and longevity.

The study in question was conducted in Finland, where researchers monitored a little over 2,300 middle-aged men for an average of 20 years. They categorized these men into three groups based on how many times per week they used the sauna:

  • Once a week

  • Two to three times a week

  • Four to seven times a week

Throughout the study, only 31% of men from the third group died, compared to 49% of those from the first. This led researchers to conclude that the regular use of sauna may increase longevity and life expectancy.

However, the study also laser-focused on specific death causes – those related to cardiovascular disease and stroke. The researchers found that the men who used the sauna the most frequently experienced a reduced risk of fatal coronary heart disease.

These incredible results are primarily attributed to the sauna’s ability to reduce inflammation, decrease blood pressure, and stimulate the heart and blood vessels.

Given that sauna bathing is associated with a reduced risk of fatal cardiovascular and all-cause mortality, it’s safe to say that using saunas regularly indeed provides longevity benefits.

Sauna Use and Reduction of Disease Risk

Let’s dive deeper into how sauna bathing can help combat heart problems, leading to a reduction in all-cause mortality and a lower risk of heart disease.

Sitting in a sauna for 20 minutes at a high temperature and low humidity can elicit the same physiological response as moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise (e.g., swimming or running). According to the World Health Organization, regular physical activity can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Other notable effects of incorporating sauna use into your daily schedule include the following:

  • Reducing blood pressure

  • Improving the health of blood vessels

  • Reducing oxidative stress

  • Regulating blood cholesterol levels

Combine these effects, and you’ll understand how time in the sauna can mitigate risk factors for heart disease.

Optimizing Sauna Use for Longevity

By now, it’s evident that regular sauna use may reduce your risk of all-cause mortality and fatal cardiovascular disease. But let’s see how to optimize sauna use to ensure it can lead to a longer life.

Best Practices for Sauna Longevity Benefits

The 2015 Finnish study and many previous studies suggest that regular sauna use increases your chances of living longer. But be careful – the keyword is “regular.”

To reap the many health benefits of sauna usage, you must visit a sauna at least four to seven times a week. Of course, this frequency can be challenging with a busy schedule, so consider investing in an at-home sauna.

Besides the frequency, pay attention to the conditions under which you use the sauna. Set the temperature to at least 175 degrees Fahrenheit while keeping the humidity at 10% to 20%. If you’re a novice, start with short five-minute sessions and work your way up to spending 20 minutes at a time in a sauna.

Precautions and Advised Practices

Though the above practices yield the best results, not all sauna goers can stick to them. And that’s perfectly fine. In fact, the No. 1 consideration for using the sauna safely should be your individual health status.

So, make sure to consult a doctor before using a sauna, especially if you have heart problems or have experienced a recent heart attack. Your healthcare provider will tell you whether using the sauna is safe and, if so, how you should approach it.

Other precautions to keep in mind are as follows:

  • Drink plenty of water before, during, and after sauna use to avoid dehydration.

  • Avoid alcohol before sauna use.

  • Increase the temperature and time spent in the sauna gradually.

  • Limit your time in a sauna (up to 20 minutes in a traditional sauna and 30 in an infrared unit).

  • Leave the sauna immediately if you feel dizzy or ill.

  • Allow yourself to cool down gradually after leaving the sauna.

Personal Stories and Anecdotal Evidence

Given the many benefits of using saunas regularly, it shouldn’t be surprising that more and more people are integrating sauna sessions into their wellness routines. Let’s hear some of their personal stories.

Testimonials From Frequent Sauna Users

Though you can find numerous testimonials from frequent sauna users online, one might stand out among the rest – the story of Peter Attia, M.D. Attia is a longevity expert physician who continuously optimizes his lifespan-boosting routine based on relevant research.

One of the most recent changes to this routine includes incorporating regular sauna sessions. Interestingly, Attia has always written off sauna use as nothing more than a relaxing pastime, something that only “feels great.” He’s even quoted as saying, “There’s no way you’re really going to live longer because you’re in a sauna.”

But the more he used the sauna and researched its effects on the body and mind, the more he became convinced that the opposite rings true – regular sauna use can indeed help you live longer. That’s why it’s now a vital part of his everyday routine.

Of course, Attia isn’t the only one. Numerous people have reached the same conclusion, including notable high-performing athletes like Dan Gable (Olympic wrestling) and Gwen Jorgensen (Gold medal triathlon Olympian).

Sauna Use Across the Lifespan

So, if regular sauna use truly helps prolong your lifespan, shouldn’t you start incorporating this activity into your routine as soon as possible? The answer is a resounding yes!

There are no age limits for sauna use, provided all bathers follow the safety guidelines and are comfortable within a sauna. Even children over 12 can use the sauna as long as they’re closely monitored.

Incorporating Sauna Use Into Modern Life

Let’s say a medical professional has cleared you to use the sauna. So, what’s next?

Finding Access to Sauna Facilities

The first thing you should take care of is your access to a sauna. If you lived in Finland, this would be the easiest of all steps, as even prisons have saunas there. While the U.S. might not be as overflowing with saunas, you can still find them in gyms, spas, and community centers nationwide.

Of course, the best solution would be to purchase an at-home sauna from Komowa and have immediate access to this health oasis whenever you want. In fact, this option is becoming increasingly popular, which shouldn’t be surprising given its convenience and long-term cost-effectiveness.

Building a Sauna Habit

Once you have easy access to a sauna, follow these guidelines to incorporate its use into your regular wellness routine:

  • Choose a time that aligns with your schedule and lifestyle.

  • Make the sauna environment as pleasant as possible by incorporating elements like soothing music.

  • Start with lower temperatures and shorter sessions until you acclimate to the heat.

  • Track your vital signs (e.g., blood pressure) during the session and over time to see the benefits firsthand.

  • Combine your sauna session with other wellness activities (e.g., meditation).

  • Turn your sessions into social activities by inviting your friends and family to join you.

Finally (and most importantly), listen to your body at all times, and you’ll only associate sauna use with positive outcomes.

Sweat the Years Away

The more research on sauna, longevity, and their connection emerges, the more it becomes clear that incorporating sauna bathing into your wellness routine is a must. Of course, the longevity benefits of sauna use are far from the only benefits of this wellness wonder, so why not turn up the heat and make a sauna session a part of your every day? Use it to rewind after a long day or get ready for one while knowing you’re also promoting a longer and healthier life. Talk about a win-win scenario!

 

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