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Sauna use promotes mild hyperthermia, which, in turn, induces a wide array of physiological responses. These responses reduce oxidative stress and inflammation and activate cellular defense systems that provide protection against many diseases. Data from a 2017 study suggest that sauna use reduces the risk of developing certain chronic or acute respiratory illnesses, including pneumonia.

Pneumonia is an acute respiratory illness characterized by cough, fever, chills, and difficulty breathing. It is a common complication of influenza and other viral infections (including the newly emerging coronaviruses) as well as bacterial infections. Pneumonia affects people of all ages, but children, older adults, and people who are immunocompromised are most vulnerable.

The study, which drew on data from a population-based prospective cohort study of more than 2,000 healthy middle-aged men (42 to 65 years old), was conducted in Finland, where most people have a home sauna. The average sauna exposure reported in the study was approximately 20 minutes per session at 79°C (174°F).

The data were adjusted for body mass index, smoking status, education level, alcohol consumption, total energy intake, socioeconomic status, physical activity, inflammatory status (measured by C-reactive protein), and history of diabetes, heart disease, asthma, bronchitis or tuberculosis. They revealed that the frequency of sauna use was inversely associated with the incidence of respiratory illness, especially pneumonia. Men who used the sauna two to three times weekly were 27 percent less likely to develop pneumonia than those who used the sauna once weekly or not at all. Men who used the sauna four to seven times weekly were 41 percent less likely to develop pneumonia compared to infrequent or non-users.

The authors of the study suggested that sauna’s protective effects may be due to reduced oxidative stress associated with hyperthermia or direct beneficial effects on lung tissue.

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