Saunas and steam rooms are both heated rooms with claims to varied health benefits. What are the differences though? Is one better than the other? Here are the benefits and risks of using a sauna and/or steam room.
Sauna vs Steam room
The difference between a sauna and a steam room lies in the type of heat they provide. A sauna uses dry heat, usually from hot rocks or a closed stove. A steam room is all about humidity and is usually heated by a generator filled with boiling water.
- Cardiovascular health
Using a sauna provides cardiovascular benefits similar to those you get from exercise. It reduces your stroke risk and lowers blood pressure. Regular sauna use seems to correlate to lower heart disease risk. It also boosts the immune system.
- Ease pain
The heart rate increases when using the sauna, going up by 30% or more. This boosts blood circulation which may help reduce muscle soreness, improve joint movement, and ease arthritic pain. This is why some people use it to alleviate lower back pain. A 2015 study found that people with rheumatic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia benefit from using saunas.
- Asthma and respiratory health
The heat of a sauna helps open things up with evidence showing that people with asthma and other respiratory conditions stand to benefit from using them. Symptoms of respiratory conditions like allergens also decrease when one uses saunas.
- Stress reduction
As heat in the sauna boosts circulation, it also promotes relaxation and leads to increased feelings of well-being. This is why using it can help fight off depression.
- Lower Alzheimer’s risk
A 20-year study conducted in Finland found a correlation between sauna use and a lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. It doesn’t mean causation and more research is needed.
- Skin health
Improved circulation and heat open up the pores and help cleanse the skin.
Steam room benefits
- Improves circulation
Like using a sauna, using a steam room increases your heart rate. This improves circulation, especially in the extremities which can lead to lower blood pressure and a healthier heart. Improved circulation also promotes the healing of broken tissue.
- Lower blood pressure
Using a steam room releases hormones that change heart rate including aldosterone. Aldosterone helps lower high blood pressure which also contributes to that feeling of relaxation.
- Stress reduction
Using a steam room decreases the body’s production of cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that regulates the levels of stress you feel. A drop in cortisol levels leads to feeling more in control and more relaxed. Using a steam room helps heal your mind and improve your focus.
- Boosts immune system
Like other forms of hydrotherapy, using a steam room helps boost the body’s immunity. Warm water stimulates leukocytes which are cells that fight off infection. Using a steam room regularly gives your bloodstream an immunity boost.
- Clears congestion
A steam room creates an environment that warms the mucous membrane encouraging deep breathing. This can help ease congestion in the sinuses and lungs. You should not use a steam room if you have a fever.
- Skin health
Both saunas and steam rooms make the person sweat which opens up the pores and cleanses the outer skin. A steam room has the added benefit of removing the toxins trapped below the skin. The warm condensation also helps rinse away dirt and dead skin which is why it’s been used in the treatment of acne.
- Workout recovery
Professional athletes have used heat therapy for decades to ease muscle soreness and recover from training workouts. Heat penetrates deep into the muscle, easing the soreness. One study found that moist heat works faster and just as effectively as dry heat in muscle recovery.
- Loosen stiff joints
One study found that heat can help reduce injury before a workout. Heat therapy on the knee joint was found to be helpful in preventing knee injury for women. Using a steam room as part of your warm-up could help you reach maximum mobility when engaging in activities like running, pilates, and yoga.
- Burns calories
The way a steam room increases your heart rate stimulates your body in ways that typical exercise does not when used correctly. Using it regularly can help your diet and exercise routine to be more effective.
- They can dehydrate you and people with kidney disease are at an even higher risk of dehydration.
- The increased temperatures can lead to dizziness and nausea in some people.
Steam room risks
- Staying in them too long (more than 15 minutes) can dehydrate you and is harmful.
- They can host other people’s germs and the warmth may even increase the number of bacteria for infection like athlete’s foot and fungal infections that thrive in warm, humid conditions.
- You should avoid them until you get the go-ahead from your doctor if you are/have:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Are on antibiotics
- Use mind-altering drugs such as stimulants, tranquillizers, and/or alcohol
One inadvertent benefit of using a sauna or steam room is the opportunity for socialization they offer unless of course it’s located in your home. Overall, though, moist heat is a better choice than dry heat. Remember to hydrate, hydrate, and hydrate after using either of them. Drink two to four glasses of water after using them.
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