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Frequent sauna use and exercise might lower the risk of psychosis 

Published May 31st, 2024 6:57PM EDT
scientists working in lab
Image: chokniti / Adobe

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Ask anyone about sauna experiences, and they’ll have only good things to say about them. Sauna baths will improve your overall health, impacting your heart function, muscles, and skin. Sauna use will also help eliminate toxins from the body, and going to a sauna should help you relax after long training sessions or just in your everyday life.

It turns out that saunas might have an extra benefit that more people should know. A new study shows there might be a link between frequent sauna use, high cardiorespiratory fitness levels, and the risk of developing psychotic disorders.

The more you use saunas and the better your fitness levels, the lower the risk of developing psychosis. Frequent sauna use alone could also significantly reduce the risk of such episodes.

Researchers from the University of Leicester published a study in the Journal of Psychiatric Research that shows there might be a link between these two behaviors and psychotic disorders.

The scientists followed over 2,600 men aged 42-61 from Finland and determined that using sauna bats 3-7 times per week combined with higher cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) reduces the risk of psychotic episodes.

Psychotic disorders are severe mental health conditions where patients might hallucinate or experience delusions. In the case of the former, people would see and hear things that aren’t there. Delusions are strong beliefs that are not based on reality. Schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorders are examples of psychotic disorders.

Psychotic events could negatively impact day-to-day life in the short and long term. They might need specialized long-term care. But psychotic events can also be prevented, and that’s what the researchers set out to study.

The beneficial effect of sauna baths is documented, though it’s not objectively measured. Previous studies have shown that sauna use can reduce the risk of psychosis.

CRF measures the body’s ability to supply oxygen to muscles during physical activity. The more you exercise, the better your CRF will be. This will, in turn, reduce the risk of certain illnesses, including heart disease and psychotic disorders.

The current study aimed to determine whether these two factors can further lower the risk of psychosis. The researchers told PsyPost they previously found the combination of saunas and higher CRF can offer stronger protection against other adverse health effects.

The men in the study were observed for more than 25 years, with the initial assessments starting in the mid-to-late 1980s. The researchers looked at sauna bathing habits and CRF, among other things.

The participants filled out questionnaires about weekly sauna use and went through tests to measure their cardiorespiratory fitness. The researchers also tracked the incidence of psychotic disorders in the cohort.

The researchers found that men who used saunas 3-7 times per week had a significantly lower risk of developing psychotic disorders compared to those who only used sauna baths less than two times a week. However, the lowest risk of developing psychosis was in the group of men who were exposed to frequent sauna baths and had medium-to-high fitness levels.

The researchers also found that men with frequent sauna use but low fitness levels were also significantly less likely (74%) to develop psychosis. Frequent exposure to sauna baths might be more beneficial than high fitness levels. However, combining the two appears to have given the men in the study the best protection.

As someone who exercises frequently but avoids saunas like the plague, I’ll certainly take this study into account. While I’m aware of the benefits of sauna exposure, it’s not an easy thing to do for me on account of specific issues impacting my ability to breathe properly.

Then again, I’m at a point in my life where I’m taking better care of my overall health, and that will include the mental aspect. I’ll consider more frequent exposure to sauna bathing in addition to maintaining my physical training.

That said, the study isn’t perfect. It has a few obvious drawbacks that the researchers pointed out. First, this is an observational study. To determine actual causality, an actual randomized trial test would be needed.

Furthermore, the conclusions of this study apply only to this particular group of people: middle-aged men. It’s unclear whether women and younger people would benefit similarly when it comes to psychotic disorders by combining frequent physical activity with frequent sauna use.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.