It’s not yet clear just how this happens, but a Finnish study suggests that men who frequent saunas are less likely to be diagnosed with dementia later in life.

Image credits: Olaf Tausch.

The study followed more than 2,000 middle-aged men living in the eastern part of Finland. Based on their sauna habits, they were split into three groups: those taking a sauna once a week, those taking a sauna 2-3 times a week, and those taking a sauna 4-7 times a week. Yeah, sauna is very popular in Finland.

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Then, scientists from the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study correlated dementia with the frequency of sauna visits. Of course, correlation does not imply causality, and this study didn’t focus on the mechanism through which sauna might protect against dementia.

What they found is that the more the men went to the sauna, the less likely it was that they would develop dementia. The same was reported for Alzheimer’s. Among those taking a sauna 4-7 times a week, the risk of any form of dementia was 66% lower and the risk of Alzheimer’s disease 65% lower than among those taking a sauna just once a week.

The same researchers had previously conducted another study on the same data and found that sauna bathing is also associated with lower risk of sudden cardiac death, the risk of death due to coronary artery disease and other cardiac events, as well as overall mortality. It’s not clear at this point if the two studies are related in any way. Professor Jari Laukkanen, leader of both studies, said:

“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.”

Journal Reference: Tanjaniina Laukkanen, Setor Kunutsor, Jussi Kauhanen, Jari Antero Laukkanen. Sauna bathing is inversely associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in middle-aged Finnish men. Age and Ageing, December 2016 DOI: 10.1093/ageing/afw212