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Taking some heat--time in a sauna.

Hot news from Finland: A 20-year study of Finnish men indicates regular sauna use improves health, especially heart health. Regular sauna users had fewer fatal heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular deaths. Furthermore, there was a dose dependency effect, with more frequent sauna sessions and longer sessions associated with better health. The study, conducted by lead author Dr. Jari Laukkanen of the University of Eastern Finland, appeared in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Some details:

1. Study Size: Approximately 2,300 Finnish men, average age early fifties, were tracked for twenty years. They self-reported their sauna usage, including frequency and duration.

2. Sauna Session Frequency: Men who used saunas less than once weekly were twice as likely to die of cardiovascular problems, including heart attacks, as men who used saunas four times weekly.

3. Sauna Session Duration: Heart-related deaths were more common in men whose sauna sessions lasted less than 11 minutes vs. men whose sauna sessions lasted more than 19 minutes.

4. Temperature: Saunas were 174 degrees Fahrenheit, on average, for frequent users.

So should you head to the health spa, or maybe set up a few space heaters in your walk-in closet?

Heat Shock Proteins (HSPs) are a possible contributing cause to the sauna health effects. HSPs are proteins produced by cells in response to stress (such as heat, inflammation, infection, or toxins). HSPs play a role in maintaining protein structure, helping to refold proteins after insult. In the cardiovascular system, HSPs prevent platelet aggregation and can protect cells.

The up regulation of HSPs by intermittent heat falls generally in the category of hormesis (Greek for to get going). Hormesis is the idea that something that is harmful in large doses may be beneficial in small doses. (Jeanne Calment, who had the longest confirmed lifespan at 122, reportedly smoked a single cigarette a day.)

It appears, though, that runners may already have a higher level of some HSPs. A 2008 study in Medical Science Sports Exercise found male runners had a higher resting level of HSP60 than nontrained males. (There was no significant difference in HSP70, another Heat Shock Protein).

The standard disclaimer probably applies: More research is needed. But, especially given the temperatures of late, you may want to wait for those results in a hot, dry place.

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Title Annotation:The Back Page
Publication:Running & FitNews
Geographic Code:4EUFI
Date:Jan 1, 2015
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