When you think of a steam room or sauna, you might think of old men in towels at a country club. I kept asking myself why anyone would want to sit in a steamy room or hot box, by choice? I could never last more than five minutes! Breathing in thick air and sitting in my own sweat, wasn’t my idea of relaxing. So, a few years ago I decided it was time to get an understanding as to why it was appealing? What was drawing people to sit in discomfort (or at least I think it’s uncomfortable) for long periods of time?
Both the sauna and steam room, utilise high heat to relax muscles, increase circulation to the surface of the skin and to relieve pain. The heat stimulates blood flow, which causes an analgesic effect and opens the skins pores. However, the most common reason that people use them is for relaxation. Wet or dry heat can generate a sedative effect, create calmness, elevate mood and reduce anxiety.
The sauna utilises a dry heat of approximately 70-100 degrees Celsius, with a low humidity level of 10-30% whereas, the steam room sits at approximately 40 degrees Celsius, with a high humidity level of 100%.
The wet heat of the steam room, in contrast to the sauna, also has a medicinal effect on the body; opening mucous membranes in the lungs, throat and sinuses. In other words, if you are unwell or suffer from respiratory conditions, a steam room can help to clear congestion. If you suffer from dry skin, steam can also hydrate the skin. In a sauna, you sweat a lot more than you do in a steam room, which can aid in the reduction of fluid retention.
There are also many ‘controversial’ benefits, that have neither been proven or dis-proven, including:
- Flushing out of toxins
- Weight loss
- Improved immune system
- Improved athletic endurance
There is also another version of the sauna which uses infrared lights at a lower heat. You may have heard of these being used in Bikram (hot yoga). I was going to explain the difference between a normal sauna and infrared but, it requires a blog of its own! So, there you have it, a few of the benefits and differences of using a steam room and sauna. I personally prefer the steam room, as I suffer from dry skin but, I mostly use an infrared sauna – tune in next week to find out why!