The striking cardiovascular effects of sauna bathing may have you adding this traditional pastime to your post-workout routine.

Don’t you love when you learn that something that’s fairly easy to do and that you (potentially) already enjoy is good for you? We do! In fact, that’s kind of our jam here at Age and Prosper. Want to live longer? Take vacations! Eat more olive oil! Drink some tea, ya’ll. And this week is no exception. Yes, you need to exercise. (Sorry!) But after that, it’s time to chill out—or rather, heat up—in the sauna.

Sitting in the sauna is referred to as “sauna bathing,” and it’s a form of whole-body thermotherapy that has been used in various forms (radiant heat, sweat lodges, etc.) for thousands of years in many parts of the world for hygiene, health, social and spiritual purposes. The sauna you are likely imagining (wood paneled walls and benches, possibly some hot rocks in the corner) is the traditional Finnish-style sauna. In fact, the word “sauna” comes from the Finnish language, meaning an “earth or snow pit,” which is exactly what the original Finnish saunas were. Saunas are a huge part of the Finnish culture, but luckily, the trend caught on quite some time ago around the globe, and these days, most well-equipped neighborhood gyms have one or two in their locker rooms.

When researchers began to study the benefits of regular sauna use and noticed significant impacts on heart and vascular health, interest was piqued. After all, heart disease and stroke are the two leading causes of death, according to the World Health Organization. So what have they found?

The main advantages of using a sauna is its ability to increase circulation in the body. The heat from the sauna causes blood vessels to dilate, which improves blood flow and oxygen delivery to the muscles and organs. This increased circulation can boost overall cardiovascular health, reduce blood pressure, and improve the function of the endothelial cells that line the blood vessels.

Saunas have also been shown to stimulate the release of endorphins, which are natural pain relievers and mood enhancers. Regular sauna use has been associated with improved lung function, reduced stress levels, enhanced athletic performance, and even potential benefits for brain health.

A traditional Finnish sauna (definitely not the same sauna that Tom and I visited at a hippy hot springs resort in the Sierra Nevada Mountains 15 years ago…if you’re cringing now, ask me about the naked guy who squeezed in right between us)

According to a report in JAMA, Researchers from the University of Eastern Finland tracked 2,300 middle-aged men for an average of 20 years. They categorized the men into three groups according to how often they used a sauna each week. The men spent an average of 14 minutes per visit baking in 175° F heat. Over the course of the study, 49% of men who went to a sauna once a week died, compared with 38% of those who went two to three times a week and just 31% of those who went four to seven times a week. Frequent visits to a sauna were also associated with lower death rates from cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Not a bad trade for ten minutes sitting with your eyes closed in a hot room, eh? If you don’t have access to a sauna in your area and you’re not interesting in spending $5,000+ on a backyard sauna, there are a ton of options available from a closet sauna that fits in the corner of a room to sauna tents and sauna blankets. This Popular Science article showcases the top home saunas. (If I get through 2023 without Tom installing a home sauna somewhere on our property, it will be some kind of miracle. Stay tuned.)

Here are the top articles and studies on the benefits of sauna use:

This Mens Health article discusses that mens risk of Alzheimer’s Disease was reduced by 65% with regular weekly sauna use.

Studies have shown that regular sauna use will improve cardiovascular health according to Medscape.

In this very short one minute video: Pete Attia doctor and longevity expert discusses the benefits of sauna use: