In Context

Since the death of amateur Russian wrestler Vladimir Ladyzhenskiy in the 2010 sauna World championships, the safety and health benefits of saunas have been questioned increasingly in the Finnish media and elsewhere.


Ladyzhenskiy was pronounced dead after collapsing with severe burns in the final stage of the event that required contestants to sit in a 230-degree Fahrenheit (110 degrees celsius) room as water was continually tossed onto a searing stove. Ladyzhenskiy collapsed after six minutes. This was the 12th Sauna World championships and the competition has since been suspended.

The Finns, however, stand by their belief that the sauna is not only safe for almost everyone, but beneficial as well, promoting muscle relaxation, dissipation of physical and mental stress and good sleep. According to a 2008 research report, the annual death rate in Finnish saunas was less than two per 100,000 people, representing around 100 Finns a year. The majority of deaths were due to natural causes, such as heart problems, and nearly half of the deaths occurred under the influence of alcohol, while around 25 percent of the deaths were the direct result of heat exposure.

Heavy meals and alcohol are discouraged before a sauna, though it's generally acceptable to drink one beer during the experience. Afterwards, bathers are encouraged to drink fluids to replace those lost -- as much as a quart of sweat an hour -- and to eat a light meal or snack.

Photo Caption: Paper factory workers in locker room
Credit: Oktober Oy