Steam Room vs. Sauna

Steam room vs. sauna– which is better? That is a question many people ask when looking at their options. Although they are both heated rooms that may help with certain medical conditions, there are some significant differences. Knowing these differences will help you make the best choice, whether at the gym to help your muscles unwind or add to your home as a regular relaxation tool.

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Steam Rooms: The Benefits

Commonly found in gyms and spas, steam rooms are beneficial to muscle recovery. They provide a warm, moist environment created by a steam generator. The temperature of steam rooms is usually kept between 110-120 degrees F.

The practice of steam bathing is an ancient one commonly used in areas where hot springs were available. Ancient cultures like the Greeks and Romans, as well as indigenous peoples from many different countries, used steam baths for the health benefits they afford. According to WebMD, steam rooms are beneficial for a variety of health conditions.

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Congestion and Bronchitis

Because steam rooms help loosen phlegm and mucus that can be causing havoc in the human body. Adding certain essential oils such as eucalyptus to a steam bath also allows the oil to permeate deeper into the body, providing even better benefits when you are congested or having difficulty breathing.

Aiding Skin Conditions

When you are in a steam room, it can be a great time to use a deep penetrating skin treatment. Steam bathing opens the pores of the skin and keeps them open, making it easy to remove dirt and oil. Once the skin is clean, apply a soothing treatment for skin conditions such as acne or dry skin to see brighter, clearer skin.

Improving circulation

Because steam bathing increases circulation, people with chronic circulation issues related to the heart may benefit. Steam rooms can also lower blood pressure by enlarging the blood vessels, which may increase your heart rate. Therefore, it is important to consult your physician before trying steam therapy to make sure that it is a good choice for your specific medical needs.

Arthritis, Stiff Joints, and Chronic Pain

Steam rooms are noted in the medical community for helping the body relax; this includes assisting stiff joints in getting some relief-the steam aids in dilating blood vessels, allowing better oxygen and blood flow. An added benefit to this dilation process is that nutrients also flow better, which can help the body naturally heal itself!

Workout Recovery

There is a reason steam rooms, commonly found in gyms, are a great post-workout recovery tool. They can help relieve aching muscles and lower the amount of damage to the muscle that the workout creates. Steam rooms increase the blood flow to help provide speedy healing.

Steam Rooms: The Risks

There are also some risks to using a steam room– you should always consult with your physician or medical professional before implementing a new therapy. Because steam rooms lower blood pressure, you might see a sudden drop in your numbers which can cause fainting.

There can be cardiac risks associated with this, primarily due to the high heat that steam rooms use. Use a steam room with caution if you have a stroke or history of a heart attack, suffer from coronary artery disease, or have problems with your heart’s rhythm.

Always be aware that steam rooms are not a substitute for medical treatment, including prescribed breathing treatments. However, they can be successfully added as an additional therapy.

You should never use a steam room while consuming alcohol or while you have an active, untreated bacterial infection. Steam creates the perfect environment for bacteria to multiply and can help bacteria to spread to others.

Saunas: The Benefits

Like steam bathing, saunas have been used for thousands of years, beginning with sweat houses created by the indigenous people groups such as the Mayans. Reportedly there are over a million saunas in use in the United States in both public and private domains.

They are similar to steam rooms in that they use high levels of heat, with most saunas set to much higher temperatures, usually around 160, but can range from 158-212 degrees F. However, a sauna utilizes dry heat instead of steam. WebMD reports that saunas may provide the same cardiac benefits as regular, moderate exercise. Medical News Today also lists many benefits offered by sauna use.

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Cardiac Benefits

With new studies coming out of Finland, researchers reported that the natural diuretic effects of sauna usage are similar to the benefits of exercise. Using a sauna helps improve the function of the circulatory system, including blood vessel function and overall heart function. Similar to a steam room, the heat also helps lower blood pressure naturally.

The lowering of blood pressure helps to increase the heart rate. The number of people who use saunas regularly (three to seven times a week) seems to correlate to lower heart disease risk. However, before using a sauna, it is a good idea to speak to your physician, especially if you have certain risk factors, including heart disease.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Another study done in Finland, where saunas are widespread, found a significantly lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in those who use saunas two to three times a week-using a sauna four to seven times a week correlated to even better results, up to a 66% decrease in risk. Although more research is needed, many researchers believe the reduction in danger comes from the dilation of the blood vessels.

Alzheimer’s Disease is believed to be similar to heart disease in that it corresponds to blood vessel function.

Asthma and Respiratory

Because the heat of saunas helps to open things up, some evidence shows that individuals who have asthma will benefit from using a sauna. Saunas dry heat mimics an arid climate, a common recommendation to those with the disease.

Symptoms from COPD and acute respiratory conditions caused by allergens and other factors may also decrease when using a sauna. A

Rheumatic Disease and Joint Health

A 2015 study found that people with rheumatic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia see benefits when utilizing a sauna. Like in steam rooms, the heat relaxes the body and can relieve stiffness and chronic back pain. It does not only decrease pain but decreases the amount of inflammation as well, providing lasting relief.

Stress Reduction and Weightloss

The relaxing factor of saunas can help overall stress levels, which corresponds to better mental health. Saunas can create a feeling of well-being and euphoria. Using essential oils that are also known to relax the body can be an added benefit in saunas. Oils such as lavender can naturally help create a relaxed state.

Because saunas force the body to sweat, some individuals may also see weight loss with regular usage. However, this may be attributed to water secretion from the body and may not result in lasting weight change. However, this can be a short-term solution for some people.

Saunas: The Risks

Similar to steam rooms, the high amount of heat produced by saunas can have significant health risks. Because of the dry environment, dehydration can be problematic for those who use a sauna and may not be a good choice for individuals with kidney disease. The temperatures of a sauna are significantly higher than those of a steam room, causing dizziness and nausea in some individuals.

If you suffer from heart disease, including arrhythmia or other heart rhythm problems, consult with your physician or medical advisor before using a sauna. It is also not recommended for pregnant women to use a sauna due to the higher temperatures and the potential lowering of blood pressure.

Time in a sauna should be monitored closely and should not exceed more than 20 minutes. Those just beginning to use a sauna should consider starting at 5-minute intervals and slowly increase their usage to the maximum limit.

Finnish studies also show that alcohol can increase the chance of death when combined with sauna usage. Although these studies do not provide conclusive evidence, alcohol use should be strictly avoided when you plan on visiting a sauna or using one in your home.

Steam Room vs. Sauna: The Verdict

The answer to which device is better– a steam room or a sauna, really boils down to your specific needs. Both provide benefits to cardiac and joint health and have strong scientific evidence behind their claims. Both use heat to relax the body, which can have a positive effect on the mind. Saunas can provide a steam option by adding water to the heating element, making it more versatile. However, steam rooms are inexpensive to create in the home by sealing up an area with a shower so that the steam cannot escape.

Personal preference between the two atmospheres also needs to be factored into the decision-making process. Most researchers and doctors recommend that any person considering using a steam room or sauna for additional medical therapy or simply for relaxation consult with a physician. Your medical team can put a program in place that will meet your medical needs without increasing health risks.