Research: Firelight Can Help Reduce Stress, Improve Brain Function

Research: Firelight Can Help Reduce Stress, Improve Brain Function

It’s no secret fire can help people relax. But can it actually help them age better? New research suggests the answer is yes.

Napoleon, a leading manufacturer of fireplaces, partnered with the University of Illinois and University of Alabama to study the health impacts of fire. There is a common sentiment that firelight is relaxing and that relaxed people are healthier. Napoleon set out to explore what the true impacts of fire are on wellness.

“Of the four natural elements of our world— earth, air, water, and fire—everyone who owns a home has an opportunity to experience the first three on a daily basis,” says Chris Schroeter, cochief executive officer. “But how many people are living without fire? We partnered with these research universities to see if fire could be the missing link between the home, and health and wellness. We had no idea that what we’d discover could actually change what we know about aging and impact the future in such a big way.”

The first study, which took place in 2022 at the University of Alabama, tested whether an electric fireplace could induce physical relaxation. To establish an electric fireplace as an effective tool for relaxation, 226 unassuming adults were asked to spend 15 minutes in two different rooms. The rooms were exactly the same with one exception: an electric fireplace. Participants wore a heart rate monitor, and pre and post-test blood pressures were compared.

The study found statistically significant decreases in heart rate and blood pressure in the room with a fireplace. The results indicate that a fireplace could be used as an effective in-home amenity to combat feelings of stress, which can lead to enhanced wellbeing and improved health.

“Stress-related disorders are among the leading causes of disability in the modern era and pose significant economic impacts worldwide,” says Garry Scott, vice president of marketing. “This study proves that fire can not only feel relaxing, it can also physically reduce stress. In essence, a fireplace is more than just a fireplace. It’s not just a source of warmth or nostalgia. It’s a beacon of health and well-being in the home.”

The second study, which occurred in 2022 at the University of Illinois, tested whether an electric fireplace could support well-being by creating environments that bolster enrichment seeking in adults aged 50 or older. Enrichment seeking is the process of seeking new information, skills, and insights. Those who seek out and engage in novel, intellectually challenging, or socially complex activities tend to also maintain higher cognitive and socioemotional well-being as they age. Therefore, enrichment seeking is important for health and well-being, but it must be nurtured.

Sixty adults played a game in high pressure/no pressure conditions with and without a fireplace. Participants in the room with a fireplace saw a 12% improvement in cognitive ability (as measured by game performance) and their adaptivity to enrichment seeking increased. The results provide evidence that adding a fireplace to an environment nurtures curiosity and openness to new ideas, thereby supporting health and well-being as people age.

“Enrichment seeking fosters resilience to age-related tendencies and is important for health and wellbeing,” says Shannon Mejia, Ph.D., professor of health, technology, and aging at the University of Illinois. “Adding a fireplace to your home could reduce stress response and support enrichment seeking. The more adaptive you are to enrichment seeking, the more healthily you age.”

When the pandemic hit, daily stress and anxiety were on a universal rise. From that, topics such as mental health and wellness—particularly in the home—emerged as a new priority. This trend has become an enduring shift in people’s priorities.

“For builders, architects, and designers who are on the front lines of consumer requests for wellness in the home—including spa-like bathrooms, outdoor oases or indoor gyms —this research supports that adding a fireplace can help provide yet another positive health experience in the home,” Schroeter says. “No matter where your ‘happy place’ is in your home, a fireplace, including an electric fireplace, has the capacity to transform any space into a sanctuary and encourage healthy aging.”