Visiting the sauna regularly could reduce the risk of dementia, a new study has found.
Scientists in Finland followed the lifestyles of more than 2,000 middle-aged men for 20 years to find out what factors influenced the development of cognitive problems in later life.
The study, published in Age and Ageing, found that those who used the sauna between four and seven times a week were 66 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with dementia compared with those taking a sauna once a week or less.
It is the first time a link between sauna use and dementia has been discovered, although previous studies showed regular use appears to improve heart health.
Prof Jari Laukkaben, the study leader at the University of East Finland, said that sauna bathing may protect both the heart and memory in similar ways.
"It is known that cardiovascular health affects the brain as well," he said.
"The sense of well-being and relaxation experienced during sauna bathing may also play a role." Dementia charities said saunas might work by reducing blood pressure and improving circulation. Dr Clare Walton, research manager at the Alzheimer's Society said: "With dementia now the biggest killer across England and Wales, finding ways to reduce the risk of developing the condition is a top priority. Saunas are thought to improve circulation and reduce blood pressure, both of which could go some way to reducing your risk of getting dementia."
Dr Rosa Sancho, head of research at Alzheimer's Research UK, added: "Although sauna bathing isn't a common hobby for men in the UK, this study suggests men who use saunas several times a week may also have a lower dementia risk.
"These kinds of studies can't unpick cause and effect, but they are important for highlighting trends in how lifestyle factors may influence our risk of dementia."