It’s always a pleasant surprise when something that feels good turns out to actually be good for you! Here’s a new case in point…

Recent finding: When Finnish researchers looked at the health habits of more than 2,000 healthy middle-aged men, those who took a 15-minute dry-heat sauna four to seven times a week were found to be 66% less likely to develop dementia over a 20-year period than those who took a sauna once a week. Theory: Dry heat may promote cardiovascular health, which also helps guard against dementia.

So how did these researchers decide to investigate whether saunas could help prevent dementia?

Background: The finding described above, which was published online in December 2016 in Age and Ageing, evolved from a larger body of research called the Kuopio Ischemic Heart Disease (KIHD) study. From that research, investigators learned that men who used saunas four to seven times a week had significantly reduced risks for sudden cardiac death, death from coronary artery disease and other cardiac events as well as death from any cause. For the purposes of the study, the saunas used dry heat, and humidity was created by occasionally dousing rocks in the sauna heater with water.

Once researchers discovered that regular saunas had such a positive impact on cardiovascular health, they decided to look into the benefits for cognitive health as well. Deeming those results “promising,” study investigators explained that they believe that regular use of saunas could be “a protective factor for common memory diseases.”

While researchers dig deeper into the mechanism for these possible benefits, there’s some speculation that the positive effects of regular sauna use may be related to the relaxation provided by the practice, according to the study’s senior author, Jari Antero Laukkanen, MD, PhD, a professor of clinical medicine at University of Eastern Finland, Kuopio. Additional research will also help determine whether women would experience similar benefits from saunas.

Bottom Line: The next time you want to kick back in a sauna, just do it—it will feel good, and your brain may well thank you for it!

Important: Check with your doctor first if you’re pregnant, have a chronic health problem or a heart condition that’s causing symptoms, such as fatigue, shortness of breath or an inability to exercise. If you’re taking medication that can lead to overheating, including anticholinergic drugs such as those used for urinary incontinence, pulmonary disease and other conditions, be sure to consult your doctor. If you feel lightheaded or nauseated during the sauna, it’s time to leave and cool down. Avoid alcohol before and after the sauna—and be sure to stay well hydrated!

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