Sauna Safety: How Much Is Too Much?

Many people use the sauna at the spa or gym as a means of relaxation, detoxification, and water-weight loss. It's widely considered a safe practice, but over the weekend in Finland, where sauna is an ancient tradition, a man died during a sauna competition.

Vladimir Ladyzhenskiy, an athletic Russian man in his 60s, had reached the final round of the Sauna World Championships in Helsinki when he collapsed. He was pulled from the sauna, which had reached 230 degrees, with severe burns and was later pronounced dead.

Although North American saunas, by law, cannot be set higher than 194 degrees, this tragic outcome highlights the inherent risks that come with using a sauna, most of which can be avoided.

Everyone's heat tolerance is different, but most experts say you should never spend more than 30 minutes in a moderate-temperature sauna. When you exit, take it easy for a few minutes, and be sure to rehydrate. You may want to choose a sports drink that helps replenish electrolytes, since the sauna can mimic strenuous exercise's effect on the body.

If you have a heart condition, avoid saunas altogether. But even if you're perfectly healthy, you shouldn't ignore signs like nausea, headaches or stinging skin, which can indicate that you've been in the heat for too long.