Now, you have a new reason to get sweaty. In a recently published study in the journal Neurology, researchers found that regularly taking saunas was associated with a substantially lower risk for stroke among middle-aged and elderly men and women. Most of us spend our days in climate-controlled spaces with air conditioning or heat, where temperatures rarely fluxuate, but there’s evidence that this may not be good for us.
An approach known as environmental conditioning centers around the idea that our circulatory systems are designed to help us adapt to different conditions, and a lack of stress on this system could be responsible for diseases of the circulatory system like hypertension and stroke. In the latest study, researchers followed 1,628 men and women in Finland between the ages of 53 and 74 for 15 years, tracking their cardiovascular health and stroke incidence. Participants were divided into three groups: those who took saunas once a week, those who took two or three saunas each week, and those who took four to seven saunas a week. That last group, with the highest sauna frequency, had more than a 60 percent reduced risk of stroke compared to the once-per-week group. The middle group had a 12 percent lower risk of stroke than the low-frequency group.
This is an observational study, so it can’t prove that saunas directly caused the lower stroke frequency. But other researchers have used data from the same study to calculate that people who take saunas more frequently have lower risk for high blood pressure and lung disease. Studies show reduced risk for heart attacks with more saunas. Perhaps the biggest takeaway might be that a little bit of environmental stress — allowing yourself to feel hot or cold and adapt to that — might be healthier than closely controlling the temperature around you at all times.