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7 Healthy Reasons You Need to Start Going to a Sauna

If you want to live a long, happy life, it's time to start sweating—and this time we don't mean exercise.

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Longer life

Contrary to the popular saying, sweating the small stuff may actually help you live longer—if you’re doing the sweating in a sauna, that is. In a study published online by JAMA Internal Medicine, people who sat in a sauna at least once a week lowered their risk of dying from any cause by 22 percent, while those who sweated it out at least four times a week lowered their risk by two-thirds. If that sounds like a lot of sauna-sitting, note that the study was done in Finland, where the practice is much more popular than in the U.S. But if you’re interested in lengthening your life, take this opportunity to broaden your cultural and health horizons and try out what the Finnish call “sauna bathing.”

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Brighter mood

Depression is the most common mental illness, yet there is still no “cure” for it. However, science is discovering many things that help ameliorate the symptoms of sadness, hopelessness, exhaustion, and apathy. And now you can add sauna bathing to that list. Patients with mild to moderate depression experienced significant improvement after sitting in a sauna for 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week, according to a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine. Find out what psychologists wish you knew about depression. 

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Stronger heart

One of the reasons saunas are so good for you is because the heat—between 158 and 194 degrees Fahrenheit on average—may help strengthen the heart, improve circulation, and therefore reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes as well as heart disease, according to the JAMA study. The sense of well-being and relaxation experienced during sauna bathing may also play a role in helping your heart, the researchers added. Eating these foods will also help reduce your stroke risk.

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Better memory

Sitting in a sauna may feel like a good way to zone out or be alone with your thoughts, but it turns out that it’s even better for your mind than simple relaxation. People who indulged in a sauna session at least four times a week were two-thirds less likely to be diagnosed with dementia later in life, according to a study published in Age and Aging. The scientists speculated that the memory boost might be linked to the documented improvement in heart health from regular sauna bathing, meaning that a stronger heart leads to a sharper mind. Either way, take this as official permission to spend more time relaxing in a hot, steamy room! Here’s what you should know about preventing dementia.

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Super-chill attitude

One of the best benefits of sitting in a hot sauna is how it chills you out—it’s too warm to do much of anything but sit and think or have a quiet conversation. And with no cell phones, computers, or gadgets to distract you, those 5 to 20 minutes (it’s not recommended that you linger longer than that) are all yours to bliss out. Even better, these feelings of relaxation and well-being last after you leave the sweat box, helping you feel calmer all day, according to a study published in the Journal of Experiential Education. Here are more stress-busters that don’t involve cocktails or cookies.

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Normal appetite

Eat too little? Eat too much? Saunas may help regulate your appetite, according to the study in Psychosomatic Medicine. While the researchers were studying the effects of saunas on depression, they noticed an unexpected bonus: Patients’ levels of ghrelin, a hormone associated with a healthy appetite, came into normal ranges during the sauna therapy. Try these other strategies for keeping your appetite under control.

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Way to manage chronic pain

Hot packs have long been used to help relieve pain from muscle overuse and injuries, but could heat similarly help relieve more generalized pain? Scientists answered this question by taking 46 patients in a hospital who expressed being in significant pain and dividing them into two groups. Both groups were taught mental exercises to deal with the pain but the second group was also asked to sit in a sauna daily. After a month, both groups showed improvement in pain, but the sauna group experienced greater relief and, as an extra bonus, also reported much less anger about their situation, according to the results published in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.