Frequent sauna bathing can significantly reduce the risk of dementia, especially in elderly men, a new study has found for the first time.
In a 20-year follow-up study carried out at the University of Eastern Finland, men taking a sauna four to seven times a week were 66 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with dementia than those taking a sauna once a week.
The association between sauna bathing and dementia risk has not been previously investigated, researchers said.The effects of sauna bathing on the risk of Alzheimers disease and other forms of dementia were studied in the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study (KIHD), involving more than 2,000 middle-aged men living in the eastern part of Finland.
Based on their sauna-bathing habits, the participants were divided into three groups: those taking a sauna once a week, those taking a sauna 23 times a week, and those taking a sauna 47 times a week.
The more frequently saunas were taken, the lower was the risk of dementia. Among those taking a sauna 47 times a week, the risk of any form of dementia was 66 per cent lower and the risk of Alzheimers disease 65 per cent lower than among those taking a sauna just once a week.
Previous research has shown that frequent sauna bathing also significantly reduces the risk of sudden cardiac death, the risk of death due to coronary artery disease and other cardiac events, as well as overall mortality.
According to Professor Jari Laukkanen, who led the study, sauna bathing may protect both the heart and memory to some extent via similar, still poorly known mechanisms.
"However, it is known that cardiovascular health affects the brain as well. The sense of well-being and relaxation experienced during sauna bathing may also play a role," said Laukkanen.