London

Frequent sauna bathing may significantly reduce the risk of stroke, according to a long-term study.

In the 15-year follow-up study published in the journal Neurology, people taking a sauna four to seven times a week were 61 per cent less likely to suffer a stroke than those taking a sauna once a week.

"The findings are very significant and highlight the multiple health benefits of taking frequent sauna baths," said Setor Kunutsor from the University of Bristol in the UK.

Stroke is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide, placing a heavy human and economic burden on societies.

The findings by researchers, including those from the Cambridge University, involved 1,628 men and women aged 53 to 74 years living in the eastern part of Finland.

Based on their frequency of taking traditional Finnish sauna baths (relative humidity 10-20 per cent), the study participants were divided into three groups: those taking a sauna once a week, those taking a sauna two to three times a week, and those taking a sauna four to seven times a week.

The more frequently saunas were taken, the lower was the risk of stroke, researchers said.

Compared to people taking one sauna session per week, the risk was decreased by 14 per cent among those with two to three sessions and 61 per cent among those with four to seven sessions.

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The association persisted even when taking into account conventional stroke risk factors, such as age, sex, diabetes, body mass index, blood lipids, alcohol consumption, physical activity and socio-economic status.

The strength of association was similar in men and women, researchers said.

The mechanisms driving the association of sauna bathing with reduced stroke may include a reduction in blood pressure, stimulation of immune system, a positive impact on the autonomic nervous system, and an improved cardiovascular function, they said.

In a recent experimental study, the same group of scientists also showed that sauna bathing has acute effects on the stiffness of the arterial wall, hence influencing blood pressure and cardiac function parameters. PTI