The Emerging Science of Saunas

Sweat houses have been used by cultures for centuries. Now research is supporting claims that they’re good for health.

Sally McGrane
Elemental
Published in
7 min readJun 14, 2019

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Credit: deliormanli/Getty Images

FFinland is a country that boasts over 3 million saunas for some 5.5 million people. Like many Finns, Jari Laukkanen, a medical doctor with the Central Finland Health Care District and cardiovascular researcher with the University of Jyväskylä, has made sauna sessions a daily part of his life. He tries to go once a day, using a sauna inside his home. “Afterwards, it’s like you’re a new person,” he says.

Laukkanen says he gets some of his best ideas in sauna. During one particular session a few years ago, he wondered if there was any scientific basis for his relaxed post-sauna feelings.

He discovered that research into the medical effects of sauna use is somewhat scant. “There are some old studies on sauna, but they were very small, and from years ago,” says Laukkanen. So Laukkanen decided to conduct a series of studies of his own. He’s now produced several medical studies that dive deep into the relationship between regular sauna use and a variety of health benefits, and experts say his work is contributing to an uptick in interest in saunas from wellness seekers around the world.

InIn Laukkanen’s initial 2015 study, he looked at 2,315 healthy Finnish men aged 42 to 60 who had regularly used saunas for the last 20 years. “There were Finnish and also Japanese studies, but not many populace studies, with follow-up. This was possible in our study for the first time, ever.”

Laukkanen and his colleagues found that the more often the men in the study visited the sauna — where they were exposed for a brief period of 20 to 30 minutes to temperatures between 176 to 212 degrees Fahrenheit — and the more time they spent there, the less likely they were to suffer from sudden cardiac death, fatal coronary heart disease, and cardiovascular disease. Men in the study who said they went to the sauna four to seven times a week also had around a 65% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia than the men who only went to the sauna once a week.

“Finally we can say the sauna itself is important.”

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Sally McGrane
Elemental

Sally McGrane is a Berlin-based journalist, and writes about culture, business, politics, and science. The spy thriller“Moscow at Midnight” is her first novel.