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The Sauna World Championships in Heinola. A man died at a similar event in 2010.Most deaths due to heat in the sauna happen in the month of June.

ON AVERAGE some 30-40 Finns die every year from the heat of the sauna. The figure has changed little in recent years, but over the last 40 years the number of deaths from sauna heat has multiplied.

One reason for this may be that electric stove saunas have become more common. Increased alcohol consumption is another obvious risk factor.

“In the 2000s the most sauna deaths occurred in June, which is also the month when people go to the sauna the most. Over 70 per cent of the victims have been intoxicated,” says Senior Actuary Helena Korpi of Statistics Finland.

The figures from Statistics Finland on the prevalence of intoxication include cases in which alcohol was present in the blood and in which the medical doctor who signed the death certificate considered intoxication a partial cause of death.

Honorary chairman of the Finnish Sauna Society Lasse Viinikka says sauna and drunkenness are a dangerous combination. It has been known for some time that a very large percentage of those who have died on the sauna benches have been heavily drunk.

“Finns go to the sauna about 300 million times per year. In light of that fact not very many people die in the sauna,” Viinikka says.

Some facts about sauna

• Several doctoral dissertations have been written in Finland about the health effects of going to the sauna.

• Many consider the relaxation induced to be the most important health benefit of going to the sauna.

• The biochemical explanation is that going to the sauna increases the production of the feel good hormone endorphin. Some studies have supported this hypothesis, others have not. The data have not been very reliable because endorphins are produced in and affect the brain, where they cannot be measured.

• The psychological explanation is that the sauna’s warm ambience affects a kind of return to childhood and even the maternal womb, which induces a feeling of well-being.

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HANNU TURUNEN–STT
ALEKSIS TORO–HT
LEHTIKUVA

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