Almost everything these days seems to come with “good news, bad news” warnings. Red wine is good for you but too much can lead to alcohol abuse. Dark chocolate is good for you but too much sugar ruins your metabolism. And it seems as though every week there’s a new study out about either the wonderful benefits or the frightful risks of caffeine consumption. It almost makes you afraid to order that double tall latte!
Now comes another mixed report about something many seniors – especially Scandinavians – enjoy: sitting in a sauna. First, let’s look at the good news. No less an authority than health and wellness guru Dr. Oz has just published a related article on his website which suggests that using a sauna can actually lower one’s risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The article describes a comprehensive study just completed that tracked 2,300 respondents, all males, for over 20 years. Researchers from a university in Finland, a nation where sauna use is a national pastime, began with men who were in the age range of 42 to 60 at the start of the study and monitored their health for more than two decades. These researchers discovered that those Finnish men who visited a sauna four to seven times per week were at least 66 percent less likely to develop dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, than their counterparts in the study who used a sauna only once per week.
That’s a huge difference in outcomes. But why should it be so, researchers wondered? Or as the Dr. Oz article stated it, “What does sweating in a sauna have to do with our brains?” According to one of the senior researchers on the study, sitting in a super-hot sauna causes your heart rate to rise much like it does when you exercise. This doctor told Reuters News Service, “After sauna, you may have lower blood pressure, and blood pressure is an important risk factor in cardiovascular and memory diseases.”
So that means all of us aging boomers should head for the nearest sauna and sweat our way to better health, right? Not so fast. The Dr. Oz article didn’t mention some of the potential downside – the bad news – that can be linked to using a sauna, especially for seniors and for those not used to spending time in such an enclosed, heated place. For the rest of the story we turned to this article published back in 2015 on the health website Livestrong.com. The article lists some of the risks of both saunas and steam rooms, and applies to all adults and not just seniors. But some of the cautions are particularly relevant to older adults.
The Livestrong article begins by listing some of the obvious benefits of sitting in the heat, including stress reduction, pain relief and muscle relaxation. But the article warns people not to overdo it – you should spend 15 to 20 minutes in a sauna or steam room at most, and leave immediately if you start to feel dizzy or nauseous. Also, because dehydration is a particular risk, people using a sauna should drink at least two to four glasses of water right after leaving the sauna to replace lost body fluids.
According to the Livestrong article, there are a host of very real, potential cardiovascular dangers linked with using a sauna. According to the American Heart Association, those with high blood pressure should be careful about using a sauna or steam room. “The sauna’s heat causes your heart rate to go up and makes your blood vessels dilate,” says the article, “which can cause chest pain or shortness of breath.” Heart experts say it’s generally safe to use a steam room if your blood pressure is under control, but you should get out immediately if you start to feel uncomfortable. However, the Heart Association warns that if you’ve recently suffered a heart attack, you should skip using steam rooms or saunas altogether, and anyone with cardiac or blood pressure risks should avoid the extreme heat/extreme cold regimen some sauna advocates like to employ – like those Finns who leave the sauna and jump into the snow!
Seniors also need to pay special attention to the effects of alcohol or prescription drugs when using a sauna or steam room. Never spend time in a sauna when drugs or alcohol might make you drowsy or otherwise impair your judgment. It could be a fatal mistake.
Our bottom line when it comes to deciding whether a sauna session is right for you is to check with your geriatric specialist and ask him or her for their advice. A geriatrician is an expert in senior health and is the medical specialist best equipped to give you medical advice that is right for someone in your age group. Contact us here at AgingOptions if you would like a referral to a geriatrician in your area.
Medical questions such as those we’ve just discussed are important when planning for your retirement. In fact, maintaining your physical health through proper medical care, and making sure you have the right kind of medical insurance, is a critical component of good retirement planning. But it’s not the only factor you need to consider. What about your finances – do you have a sound financial plan in place? Are your legal affairs completely in order? Have you considered the housing options that are best for you? Are your family members fully informed and supportive of your retirement wishes? We know of only one type of retirement plan that encompasses all these elements, and that is a LifePlan from AgingOptions. With your LifePlan in place, you can face your retirement future with confidence and peace of mind. We’ve made it especially easy to learn more about LifePlanning and that’s by attending one of our highly popular LifePlanning Seminars, offered absolutely free in locations throughout the area. Won’t you join us for a seminar near you? Simply click here for seminar dates, times and locations and register online, or call us and we’ll be glad to assist you.