When it comes to saunas, safety first. Here are the 9 rules of sauna safety.
Sauna Rules are Important
After a devastating end to the 2010 World Sauna Championships in Heinola, Finland, when finalist Vladimir Ladyzhenskiy from Russia died after being inside a blistering hot sauna for 6 minutes, the spotlight fell on sauna safety. How much is too much, and when is it not safe?
As a travel and spa writer who regularly visits thermal spas and saunas around the world, I’ve learned that caution and balance when it comes to wellness is key. While many people (my husband included) think the hotter the better, extreme temperatures can be dangerous if not approached with care.
During the championships, for example, temperatures inside the wooden sauna were said to exceed 110C (230F). This isn’t unheard of, but it certainly wasn’t the first scorching sauna Ladyzhenskiy had been in that day, and too much heat can tax the body and lead to dehydration.
The contest, which had run annually since 1999, will not be held again.
Many saunas average a temperature of about 85C (185F) though it can range anywhere between 60C (140F) to a blistering 110C (230F) or even higher.
Infrared saunas are generally lower, in the range of 49C (120F) to 60C (140F).
That said, there are reasons that many people turn to the sauna in the name of wellness, and the tradition of sweating has been around for centuries. In countries like Germany, sauna culture is practically a wellness religion.
Sweating helps eliminate toxins from the body. Heating the body’s tissues helps the body heal, much as a fever is the body’s own way of battling viruses. Saunas also improve blood circulation and relieve muscle and joint pain.
It’s also a good way to relax – as long as you do it correctly, so here are some sauna guidelines below.
The 9 Rules of Sauna Safety
1) Don’t Stay in Too Long
15 to 20 minutes at a time is generally considered the max, though other proponents say up to 30 minutes. The length of time the body can tolerate will vary from person to person. If you are sensitive to heat, start off with a short stay.
2) Cool Down
There is a long Finnish tradition of going straight from the sauna into the snow but a gradual cool down is easier. For a less extreme way to cool your body down, take a cold or cool shower. Bonus: this also removes any impurities that your body has eliminated and prevents their reabsorption.
Relax for at least ten minutes afterward. Let your body recuperate before doing the hot, cold, relaxation circuit again. Many bathhouses and nordic spas advise limiting the circuit to three times over a couple of hours.
Personally, my body can’t tolerate doing the sauna more than twice, and the second time is usually shorter.
Drink plenty of water before and after. You may want to eat something salty afterward if you’ve sweat a lot.
5) Consider the Buddy System
Going into the sauna with a friend or family member isn’t a bad idea so that if problems do occur, someone has your back. Besides, a sauna is a social affair.
6) Consider Your Health
The heat of a sauna makes the heart work harder. Reasons to avoid the sauna include heart problems, pregnancy, high or low blood pressure, etc. If you have any concerns, check with your doctor first.
7) Never Drink Alcohol in the Sauna
Also, don’t go in right after a large meal or strenuous exercise.
8) Know that Saunas Can Burn
Too much time in the sauna at a too high temperature can lead to blistering. If your skin starts to sting, get out. I’ve actually burned my nostrils in a sauna – just try blowing your nose after that. It’s not fun.
9) Monitor Your Body
If you start to feel dizzy, nauseous or have a headache, leave immediately. There is no point in taxing the body to extremes – especially not in the name of wellness. Moderation is key.
Saunas can be a great relaxing pleasure, so follow these safe sauna rules, check with your doctor if you have any questions and use common sense to get the most of your experience.
Want more spa? Read more about spas and wellness at my spa guide or check out my How to Spa article for beginners.
Want some celebrity sauna gossip? Read about Jessica’s Biel’s accidental naked man ‘sandwich’ in Austria.
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