Seabourn Club Herald - - WELL-BEING - By Alex Dar­ling­ton

It seems as though ev­ery time we pick up a health-re­lated mag­a­zine, we read a new re­port about the ben­e­fits of vig­or­ous ex­er­cise or the won­ders of a sound nu­tri­tion reg­i­men. Of course, ex­er­cise can be fun if you have the time and in­cli­na­tion, and sprouts and broc­coli can be pleas­ant enough on the plate.

But when are we go­ing to read an ar­ti­cle tout­ing the won­ders of some­thing we re­ally like? Wouldn’t it be great to see some re­search show­ing that we can bol­ster our im­mune sys­tems, slash our risk of heart dis­ease, lose weight and even pro­long our lives by just veg­ging out and re­lax­ing?

Well here it is, a ver­i­ta­ble sym­phony of beau­ti­ful mu­sic to the ears of any­one who ever dreamed of get­ting healthy by do­ing noth­ing: A brand-new study out of the Uni­ver­sity of East­ern Fin­land in Kuo­pio sug­gests that just laz­ing in a sauna for a few min­utes four to seven days a week can in­crease longevity and lower the odds of car­diac ar­rest.

The study fol­lowed 2,300 men for 20 years. The sub­jects be­gan by fill­ing out ques­tion­naires ask­ing how of­ten they vis­ited a sauna and how long they stayed in. In­cred­i­bly, study au­thor and car­di­ol­o­gist Dr. Jari Laukka­nen found that the more of­ten the men used the sauna, and the longer they stayed in, the more re­sis­tant they were to sud­den heart at­tack.

“There was an in­verse re­la­tion­ship be­tween sauna and heart at­tack risk,” Laukka­nen says. “In other words, more is bet­ter. It seems that more than four sauna ses­sions a week had the low­est risk. But even peo­ple who have two or three ses­sions a week may get some ben­e­fits.”

In fact, the risk of death from any cause plum­meted from 49 per­cent for the ones who sauna-bathed least fre­quently to 31 per­cent for the ones who took a sauna most of­ten.

This good news, as ex­cit­ing as it may be to most of the world, comes as no sur­prise to the Finns for whom saunas are noth­ing less than a way of life. In Fin­land (a na­tion of 5.5 mil­lion), there are 3.3 mil­lion saunas. An­other way to put it: Saunas are as com­mon as TVs there.

And re­mark­ably, con­trary to the myth­i­cal im­age of the su­per-fit Fin­nish cross-coun­try skier, ev­i­dence in­di­cates the av­er­age Finn ac­tu­ally spends more time loung­ing in the sauna than pump­ing iron or pol­ing through the snow.

Of course, the “sweat bath” idea is not ex­clu­sive to the Scan­di­na­vians. Other cul­tures have used the same prin­ci­ple for cen­turies. The Africans have their si­futu, the Turks have the ham­mam, the Na­tive Amer­i­cans use “sweat lodges” — even the An­cient Ro­mans had their ther­mae. All of these in­volve the same prin­ci­ple: stim­u­lat­ing heavy per­spi­ra­tion with the use of in­tense heat — wet or dry — in a small, en­closed space.

But for the pur­poses of Laukka­nen’s study, we’re talk­ing specif­i­cally about the Fin­nish sauna, in which a room is brought to a tem­per­a­ture of 40 to 100 de­grees Cel­sius (104 to 212 de­grees Fahren­heit) with dry heat.

And there’s more good news. This Uni­ver­sity of East­ern Fin­land re­search is only the lat­est in a long list of find­ings that demon­strate the health-giv­ing pow­ers of the sauna.

These days, saunas are much more com­monly seen through­out Europe than they used to be. Else­where, more spas, gyms and health clubs are mak­ing them part of the draw to pull new mem­bers in. Ob­vi­ously, some are bet­ter than others. But you don’t have to go to Scan­di­navia to find one that fits the re­quire­ments in­di­cated in the Laukka­nen study. Once you find a sauna to call your own, just sit back, re­lax and let the heat work its magic.


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