Saunas may be better for your health than previously believed, new research reveals. Relaxing in the hot environment could lead to better heart health and longer lifespans.

Regular use of saunas can result in better circulation and cardiovascular health, results from previous studies have shown. Until now, however, little research had been conducted examining the effect of saunas on fatal cardiovascular diseases (CVD), fatal coronary heart disease (CHD), and sudden cardiac death (SCD).

Health records from 2,315 men in eastern Finland between the ages of 42 and 60 years old were studied, and compared to their reports of sauna use. Researchers reported a total of 929 total deaths in the group over a period of 21 years. Of these fatalities, 407 were due to CVD, 281 from CHD, and 190 were caused by SCD.

Overall deaths were reduced by 24 percent for subjects who visited saunas two to three times a week, and 40 percent among those who took part in the activity four to seven times a week. Compared to those who took one sauna bath a week, CHD was reduced 23 percent among people visiting saunas two or three times a week, and 48 percent in those heading to the sauna baths four to seven times each week. Deaths from CVD lowered by 27 to 50 percent, depending on how often the subject visited saunas.

Risk of SCD was also found to be correlated to the amount of time that a person spends in saunas. Subject who spent an average of 11 to 19 minutes in the sauna each session experienced a seven percent drop in fatalities from SCD, compared to those who spent less time in steam baths. That health benefit improved to 52 percent among those people who averaged more than 19 minutes in a sauna each session.

Finland's chilly climate makes saunas extremely popular, and they are considered to be a healthy and relaxing activity which is enjoyed by a large percentage of the population.

"Although we do not know why the men who took saunas more frequently had greater longevity (whether it is the time spent in the hot room, the relaxation time, the leisure of a life that allows for more relaxation time or the camaraderie of the sauna), clearly time spent in the sauna is time well spent," Rita Redberg of the University of California, San Francisco said.

Further research will examine why sauna use helps to lengthen lifespans.

Examination of the effect of sauna use on cardiovascular health and overall fatality rates was published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

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