Sauna vs. Steam Room: The Health Benefits
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If the sauna vs. steam room went head to head in a steel cage match, which would emerge victorious for providing the greatest health benefits? Both of these technologies employ heat to heal. However, is one inherently better than the other?
Since time immemorial, humans have used heat to ease the pain of various conditions. It mimics what the body does by increasing inflammation to promote healing, only it applies it everywhere, getting deep within tissues to promote positive physiological functioning.
There’s a reason why many health clubs employ both technologies — they each have their perks. Here’s the inside scoop on the sauna vs. steam room battle and their comparative health benefits.
General Heat Room Benefits
When comparing the sauna vs. steam room, the similarities outweigh the differences. Heat is an effective therapy for multiple conditions because it confers the following health benefits. Here’s a short list of perks you can reap from either technology.
1. Improved Circulation
Your body uses your blood to deliver oxygen and vital nutrients to its various cells and tissues. Improving circulation benefits nearly any existing health condition by helping get more of what you need to where you need it the most.
2. Lower Blood Pressure
Heart disease remains the number one killer in the United States. The problem cuts across socioeconomic and ethnic lines, but using a sauna or steam room regularly could lower your risk.
3. Clear Congestion
Allergies can make life miserable by clogging up your nose. Steam rooms and saunas can help you breathe more comfortably.
4. Loosen Stiff Joints
Nearly a quarter of American adults have arthritis, and their creaky joints can significantly impact their quality of life. It’s tough to do even simple tasks like grocery shopping when your knees and hips ache. Fortunately, heat therapy can loosen the stiffness and ease pain.
5. Ease Tight Muscles
Are your quads singing Handel’s “Messiah” when you try to climb the stairs after leg day? Heat therapy may help you recover from your workouts more quickly. It might even boost your performance the next time you hit the gym.
6. Boost Immune Function
It turns out that your mama was right — the cold can make you sick. Please note, it’s still the pesky germs that do the dirty work of making you feel like death warmed over, but your nose releases tiny spheres in your mucus that neutralize bacteria and viruses. It makes fewer of them when temperatures drop, increasing your risk of contracting the cold, flu or the dreaded COVID-19.
7. Promote Healthy Skin
Have you ever noticed how glowing people look when they emerge from the steam room or sauna? That’s because heat opens your pores, letting you shed some of the gunk trapped within, especially if you finish your excursion with a shower or a splash of cold water on your face.
8. Decrease Mental Stress
Excess stress is everywhere today, and it is driving poor mental and physical health outcomes. Anxiety and depression soared during the pandemic, and rates were high before it began. A few sessions in a steam room or sauna provide the necessary time for mindfulness and meditation, healing body, mind and soul.
Where the Sauna Emerges the Winner
“That’s all well and good,” you might think, “but who wins the sauna vs. steam room battle?” It all depends on the conditions you need to treat the most.
There are different types of saunas, most of which use a heat source to bring the room between 180 and 200 degrees. It’s hot, but a dry heat, much like the Arizona desert at high noon in late June before the monsoon season arrives. You’re safe to use a traditional model for roughly 15 to 20 minutes at a stretch, and can do up to three or four sessions with a 10-minute break in between.
Infrared saunas are a bit different, heating to only 135 to 150 degrees. As such, you can use them for 30 to 40 minutes before you reach the dangerous overheating zone.
Where the sauna reigns supreme is in pain relief and athletic performance. It promotes deep relaxation in your muscles and connective tissues, letting them loosen to reduce pain. Some athletes swear by saunas to recover from tough workouts more quickly and evidence supports their use as a treatment for delayed onset muscle soreness.
When the Steam Room Is Your Best Bet
Steam rooms are a bit different, heating to only 100 to 115 degrees — but with 100% humidity. Think East Texas in August, then dial the mugginess up a few more notches. They’re safe to use for up to 15 minutes at a stretch.
Some studies suggest that steam does a superior job of increasing circulation, although both devices will expand your blood vessels. It’s decidedly better at busting congestion, though — so make this spot your go-to when seasonal allergies raise their ugly heads. However, you should avoid the spot during cold and flu season if infected to prevent spreading germs.
Another aspect that makes steam rooms reign supreme is your ability to use essential oils as part of your therapy. Many people use eucalyptus to open their sinuses. Lavender is another popular choice as the linalool — a terpene with healing powers — activates your brain’s relaxation network.
General Tips for Using the Steam Room and Sauna
It doesn’t matter who wins the steam room vs. sauna debate. They both have effective uses for multiple ailments. Are you ready to enhance your health with the healing power of heat? Here are some general tips for using these facilities:
- Hydrate: You will sweat — a lot. Drinking plenty of water prevents dehydration and the resulting lightheadedness and unpleasant symptoms.
- Keep it short: Your body needs time to adjust to high temperatures. Although it’s safe to use either a sauna or steam room for up to 15 minutes at a time, there’s no need to remain inside that long if you experience discomfort.
- Dry brush: Dry brushing is like a little massage. It sloughs off dead skin cells and helps increase circulation and promote lymph flow.
- Shower: Showering before your treatment removes dead skin cells and opens pores. The warmth also starts to relax you. It’s also beneficial to rinse with cool water afterward to avoid sweat drying back on your body.
- Take breaks: If doing multiple sauna sessions, take breaks of at least five to ten minutes in between while drinking and rinsing yourself with cool water and resting quietly.
Sauna vs. Steam Room: Which One Is Best for Your Health?
There’s no clear winner to the sauna vs. steam room debate. Both use the magic of heat to heal and have their uses for various conditions.
Now that you know the basics, could you benefit from the healing power of heat? Try a sauna or steam room session after your next workout or to treat aches and pains and see how you feel.
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