The Finnish are clearly onto something. Though the Angry Birds ship has sailed—we feel your deep-seeded jealousy toward Rovio’s genius, too—you can jump on Finland’s health bandwagon by stepping into a sauna.
Frequent sauna trips (baths? sits?) may help you live longer, a Finnish study published in JAMA Internal Medicine has found. Saunas are to Finland what Starbucks is to America. For a population of 5.3 million people, there are 3.3. million saunas in Finland, according to InterNations.org. And they have good reason to cherish their sweatboxes.
According to the researchers, saunas are thought to improve blood vessel function, exercise capacity, even lower blood pressure for those suffering hypertension. This new study also suggests there’s an even greater benefit like a lesser likelihood of death from heart, attack, stroke and other heart-related conditions.
About 2,300 Finnish men, averaging 50 years of age, were asked how often they used saunas (at about 174 degrees Fahrenheit); their answers ranged from once weekly to every day. During almost 20 years of follow-up, more than 900 men died. Deaths from heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems were nearly twice as common in once-a-week users than those who frequented a sauna at least four times a week. Time spent sweating mattered, too. Fatal heart-related deaths were less common in men whose sessions lasted over 19 minutes, compared with those who spent less than 11 minutes in the sauna.
Dr. Jari Laukkanen, a University of Eastern Finland researcher and the study's lead author, mused that high temperature and humidity may cause beneficial changes in the cardiovascular system, but more rigorous research is needed to determine how saunas might prolong one's lifespan.
In the meantime, get sweating. If you can't ward off a heart attack, at least you'll relieve sore muscles and flush toxins from your body.