We previously showed how saunas offer a wealth of health and wellness benefits, but ongoing research indicates regular sauna use may help prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease too. Below, we’ll go over the study results, explain the mechanisms behind the correlation, and provide details on how much time you want to log in your sauna to reap the maximum benefit.
A Word on Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Although many people consider Alzheimer’s and dementia to be synonymous,they’re not. Dementia is a generalized term that refers to a decline in mental ability that’s severe enough to interfere with daily life. It’s caused by damage to brain cells and can impact a person’s ability to think and communicate, plus affects behavior and feelings.
Alzheimer’s is a degenerative disease that’s a specific form of dementia and accounts for roughly 60-80% of all dementia cases.
Sauna Use and Dementia/ Alzheimer’s are Inversely Correlated
Although the research only emerged in 2017, it was decades in the making. Back in the 1980s, initial baselines for 2,315 healthy Finnish men were gathered. After about 20 years, the researchers touched base with the men again to find out what their sauna habits had been like and whether they’d developed Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. By this point, the men were between the ages of 40 and 60; 123 had developed Alzheimer’s Disease and 204 had been diagnosed with dementia. “Moderate to high frequency of sauna bathing was associated with lowered risks of dementia and Alzheimer's disease,” the researchers say, and prevalence is 66% lower with the most frequent sauna bathers.
Researchers Say Saunas Increase Vascular Health
While the initial study showed that sauna use can decrease dementia and Alzheimer’s risk, it didn’t delve into the mechanisms behind it, so they did another round of research to find out why it happens. In this study, they gathered 100 test subjects and measured things like pulse rates, temperature, and blood pressure before, during, and after sauna use, all while trying to mimic the conditions of home sauna use. They found that the body reacts to sauna bathing much like it does medium-intensity exercise. Temperature and heart rate increases during, while blood pressure drops after and stays reduced for at least 30 minutes. “Sauna bathing reduces blood pressure and increases vascular compliance,” the researchers conclude. This is important because, the healthier blood flow to the brain is, the less likely someone is to suffer damage that can lead to conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Aim for 4-7 30-Minute Sessions Per Week to Get the Maximum Benefit
Researchers broke the participants into groups based upon how often they used a sauna; once per week, 2-3 times per week, or 4-7 per week. Prevalence of dementia and Alzheimer’s reduced as sauna use rose, indicating 65-66% less risk for those who use saunas 4-7 times per week. In this case, they were looking for usage of at least 15 minutes per session, but the second study that looked into the physiological mechanisms had participants use saunas for 30 minutes each.
Although scientists involved in both studies call for further research on the mechanisms behind the phenomenon, the existing body of research shows great promise.
Find Your Perfect Outdoor Sauna
If you’d like to reap the benefits of regular sauna use and have a DIY spirit, consider adding an outdoor model to your backyard. Our high-quality kits come with everything you need to get started and are easy to assemble. Browse our outdoor sauna collection to find the right one for your lifestyle.