A new study has found that visiting a sauna or steam room on a regular basis could dramatically reduce the risk of dementia.
Researchers at the University of East Finland, led by Professor Jari Laukkaben, followed over 2,000 middle-aged men for 20 years – and discovered that those who used the sauna between four and seven times a week were up to 66 per cent less likely to develop the mental health disease.
“It is known that cardiovascular health affects the brain as well,” Laukkaben said, suggesting that saunas might work by lowering blood pressure and improving circulation. “But the sense of well-being and relaxation experience during sauna-bathing may also play a role.”
So is this the sauna’s only health perk? Or could there be more boons and benefits hiding in the steam?
Saunas relieve stress
The heat from a steam room, as well as relaxing the body’s muscles and improving circulation, also promotes the release of endorphins.
Endorphins, the body’s ‘feel-good’ chemical, have been proven to reduce stress. And, as many of our biggest killers – heart disease, for example – are at least partially stress-related, it makes sense to flood our body with as many all-natural endorphins as possible.
Saunas flush out toxins
Deep sweating, the type that many of us won’t even achieve when using the machines or free weights in other rooms of the gym, comes hand in hand with a visit to the steam room. Blood vessels dilate due to the heat of the sauna, causing increased blood flow and stimulated heat glands.
As a result, the sweat you produce in a sauna is different to sweat you produce whilst undertaking physical exercise. As well as containing 99 per cent water, deep sweating also coaxes common toxins – such as lead, copper, mercury, nickel and zinc – out of your system, which can only be a good thing.
Saunas actually do burn calories
They may once have been thought as nonsense claims by steam room sellers, but there may actually be some truth in the belief that saunas can help you lose weight.
Of course, it depends on the body type, but the process of deep sweating requires a huge amount of energy, and this can be found by converting the body’s stores of fat and carbohydrates. In fact, American Dr Ward Dean calculated that “a moderately conditioned person can easily sweat off 500 grams in a sauna in a single session.”
Saunas cleanse your skin
Hardly a hidden benefit, but one certainly worth mentioning, saunas are one of the world’s oldest methods of cleansing and clearing your skin.
When the body deep sweats, dead skin is shed, and replaced with the younger skin below to keep you looking fresh faced. Bacteria is rinsed from the epidermal layer of your sweat ducts, and clearing your pores will improve capillary circulation – a sure fire way to softer skin.
Saunas can fight illness
German research has shown that if you’ve got a sniffle, that the sauna is the place to be. Regular steam room use can significantly reduce the chance of contracting colds and flu.
As the body is exposed to the high heat of a steam room, more white blood cells are produced, which help to fight off illnesses and kill viruses. And, even if you’ve already caught the cold, steam can help ease the symptoms of sinus congestion or sore throats.