Sauna Safety Tips
How to enjoy the benefits of a sauna without sweating the risks
After a tough workout, a day on the slopes or an all-day meeting, a sit in a sauna can melt away the tension in your muscles and mind. Taking regular saunas can even benefit your health. For example, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found two or three saunas per week lowered the risk of sudden cardiac death in men by up to two-thirds compared to men who hit the heat just once a week. Saunas may also help temporarily with symptoms of asthma, chronic bronchitis and arthritis.
Soaking up a lot of hot air has its hazards, though. In the dry heat of a sauna, around 185 degrees F, your body temperature can reach 104 degrees F within minutes, according to Harvard Medical School. You can sweat out as much as a pint of fluid, and your pulse may speed up by 30 percent or more.
So don’t go full steam ahead into a sauna without learning how to be safe. First, if you have a heart problem or any other chronic medical condition, talk to your doctor to find out if a sauna is safe for you.
If it is, follow these tips from the National Institutes of Health and other medical organizations.
Dress (and undress) the part. Wear a swimsuit or wrap a towel around you in a sauna or steam room. It’s never a good idea to plant your bare bum where someone else may have planted theirs. But do remember to take off any jewelry you're wearing. Metal can heat up quickly and burn your skin.
Stick to 20 minutes or less. Most saunas warn users to stay no longer than 15 to 20 minutes. Make an exit even sooner if you start to feel uncomfortable.
Take precautions if you’re pregnant. Exposure to very high temperatures during the first trimester of pregnancy has been linked to neural tube defects in babies. For that reason, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecology advises moms-to-be to wait until later in pregnancy to use a sauna and to stay in no longer than 15 minutes.
Never drink and steam. Alcohol can lower your blood pressure, and the last thing you want to do in a sauna is get dizzy or pass out. According to a study published in the American Journal of Medicine, drinking alcohol while using a sauna "increases the risk of hypotension, arrhythmia, and sudden death, and should be avoided." Drinking can impair your judgment, too, possibly causing you to take dangerous risks. In Finland, where sauna-soaking is practically a national pastime, “the consumption of alcohol has been estimated to be a contributing factor in some 20 to 25 sauna-related deaths every year,” according to research published in the Annals of Clinical Research.
Stay hydrated. Drinking a glass or two of water before you take a sauna and at least two glasses afterward will help make up for lost fluids, according to Harvard Medical School.
Cool off gradually. After leaving the sauna room, rest for a few minutes to allow your body temperature to start going down. Don't head straight for the showers or the pool. This is especially important for people with high blood pressure, who could experience an increase in pressure, according to the American Heart Association.
Leave your cell phone behind. Simply put, it will melt, warns the North American Sauna Society.