Researchers from the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Jyvaskyla, Finland found that mortality from CVD among people who used a sauna four to seven times a week was 2.7 fatal CVD events per 1,000 person years.
Mortality was 10.1 events per 1,000 person years in those who used a sauna once a week, according to the study published in the journal BMC Medicine.
Person years refers to the total number of years that participants remained in the study.
It is a way of measuring the number of new events in the study population in a given time period, with a lower number of events indicating a lower risk.
"An important finding of this research is that more regular sauna use is associated with a lower risk of death from CVD in middle-aged to elderly women as well as in men," said Jari Laukkanen, professor at the University of Eastern Finland.
Previous population studies were done mostly in men only. There are several possible reasons why sauna use may decrease the risk of death due to CVD, researchers said.
"Our research team has shown in previous studies that high sauna use is associated with lower blood pressure," said Laukkanen.
"Additionally, sauna use is known to trigger an increase in heart rate equal to that seen in low to moderate intensity physical exercise," Laukkanen said.
The incidence (number of new cases) of CVD mortality over the study period was also found to decrease as the length of time spent in the sauna per week increased.
For those who spent over 45 minutes per week in the sauna in total the incidence was 5.1 per 1,000 person years while it was 9.6 for those who spent less than 15 minutes per week in the sauna in total.
The researchers assessed sauna use by a self-reported questionnaire and checked deaths from cardiovascular causes against documents from hospitals and health centre wards, death certificates, as well as medico legal reports for 1,688 participants living in Finland.
At the start of the study, the participants were on average 63 years old and 51.4 per cent were women.
Data for the study was collected between 1998 and 2015 and the mean follow-up time was 15 years.
The researchers caution that all the patients whose data was analysed were from one region and therefore there is a need for further research to understand if the findings apply to other populations.
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