We'll be honest: We've had mixed feelings about kicking back in a sauna in the past. It's relaxing, sure. But — like most situations that involve copious amounts of sweat and nearly (if not entirely) naked strangers — it's awkward.
But then we heard about a December 2016 study that found a connection between regular sauna visits and lower risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer's, and now we're totally reconsidering the uncomfortable ordeal.
In the study, researchers from the University of Eastern Finland tracked more than 2,300 Finnish men (ages 42 to 60 at the start of the study) for more than 20 years and found that the men who visited a sauna four to seven times each week were 66 percent less likely to be diagnosed with dementia and 67 percent less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's than the men who only visited a sauna once a week. (If you hadn't guessed already, saunas are a big part of Finnish culture.)
But what does sweating in a sauna have to do with our brains? Well, sitting in a super-hot sauna causes your heart rate to rise much like it does when you exercise, senior researcher Jari Laukkanen, MD, PhD, told Reuters. And that's good news for your body and mind: "After sauna, you may have lower blood pressure, and blood pressure is an important risk factor in cardiovascular and memory diseases," Dr. Laukkanen explained.
That said, the study only looked at men and only found a link between sauna visits and risk of cognitive disorders, not cause and effect, so more research is needed. But until then, sit back and get your sweat on! You've earned it.