After writing recently about bathroom design, a Finnish reader complained that every home should have a sauna in it. He’s probably right; a few years ago Jenn on MNN reported on a study that“ found that frequent sauna use may lead to a reduced risk for a number of cardiovascular conditions including heart failure and coronary heart disease”. Then recently the Dr. Jari Laukkanen, author of the earlier study on hearts, had a look at brains. According to Huffington Post,
Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland found a link between sauna visits and memory diseases after following more than 2,300 middle-aged Finnish men for more than 20 years. In the study, men who went to the sauna four to seven times a week were found 66 percent less likely to be diagnosed with dementia, and 65 percent less likely with Alzheimer’s disease, than those taking a sauna once a week.
Dr.Laukkanen relates the two studies:
“In the sauna, the heart rate increases and we start to sweat. This is a bit like physical exercise,” Laukkonen said. “After sauna, you may have lower blood pressure, and blood pressure is an important risk factor in cardiovascular and memory diseases. This may be one possible explanation for our findings.”
Writing in the Spectator, one of the doctors who reviews studies for the paper was not impressed, noting:
The title of the study is ‘Sauna bathing is inversely associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in middle-aged Finnish men’ and the operative word here is associated. An association, or relationship between two variables such as dementia and sauna bathing, does not mean causation. While changes in one variable may cause changes in the other, it may also be the other way round, that dementia causes less use of sauna facilities, or a third factor altogether that influences both — for instance, physical activity.
He is most concerned about references to taking a sauna being like physical exercise because the heart rate increases.
Personally, I would prefer the public, if worried about dementia, to spend a few episodes a week engaging in physical activity rather than being sat inactive in a hot room naked.
On the other hand, our Finnish reader has a point. There is a consensus that saunas and steam rooms reduce tension, promote relaxation, increase circulation and, particularly in saunas, promote sweating, which opens pores and does clean the skin. And these days, anything that relaxes and reduces tension is a good thing.
Saunas take up a lot of room (although we have shown a clever collapsible one) but one can integrate steam units into shower enclosures. They also can be small, taking up not much more space than a tub. Perhaps our Finnish reader was right.