A study out of Finland followed 2,315 men (aged 42-60) for 20 years (studies this long are very rare) and found that those using the sauna 2-3 times per week (as opposed to just one time per week) were a whopping 24% less likely to die from all causes. But there’s even more – the effects continued to increase the more one used the sauna. Those using the sauna 4-7 times per week were an amazing 40% less likely to die from all causes.
One of the mechanisms for this may be the activation of heat shock proteins (HSPs). Aging is associated with a progressive accumulation of molecular damage and reduced cellular defense mechanisms. HSPs can repair damaged cells, promote autophagy (the recycling of damaged cell parts) and also prevent future damage by scavenging free radicals and increasing antioxidant capacity through the maintenance of glutathione, a master antioxidant.
Heat stress also activates FOXO3, which has been called the longevity gene since polymorphisms in this gene are associated with the ability to attain exceptional old age. FOXO3 affects the expression of a number of other genes, such as those involved in DNA repair and cell death, immune function, stress resistance, autophagy, tumor suppression, and the activation of stem cells. These are all critical functions that decline as we age, so a robust activation of FOXO3 via sauna use is a powerful anti-aging strategy!