"Finns say the sauna is a poor man's pharmacy," a 54-year-old Helsinki native told the BBC in 2013. "If a sick person is not cured by tar, spirits, or sauna, then they will die." Looks like the Finns—most of whom have private saunas at home, the AP notes—were onto something: A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that sauna use may provide health benefits, decrease cardiovascular disease risk, and even help you live longer, Reuters reports. Researchers tracked sauna use over 20 years for about 2,300 Finnish men (ages 42 to 60) and found that, even after accounting for other factors, heart attack deaths and other cardiovascular-related fatalities were almost twice as common in men who used saunas once a week, compared to those who used them at least four times weekly, the AP notes. For death from any cause, risk fell from 49% for the least-frequent users to 31% for those who went the most, as per Reuters.
On average, the saunas hovered at 174 degrees Fahrenheit (slightly lower for those who didn't use them as often). Time spent in the sauna also affected results: Heart-related deaths weren't as prevalent in men who hung out in the sauna for more than 19 minutes compared to shorter sessions of less than 11 minutes. So what's the secret? The study's lead researcher points to the high heat and humidity as possibly causing positive cardiovascular effects, while a cardiologist tells the AP that the relaxation brought on by a sauna visit may help. "The camaraderie they offer may also benefit health," Dr. Rita Redberg says. "Clearly, time spent in the sauna is time well spent." Researchers note, however, that the study was based on observational info only, doesn't apply to lower-temperature saunas, and only studied middle-aged men. (If you do hit the sauna, be careful.)