Sauna or Steam? (Must-Know Health Facts!)

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When you walk into a gym or fitness club, you often find a sauna and a steam room near the locker room. Both can feel like a hot yoga class after an intense workout or AMRAP session. Your body sweats in both, creating a dewy sheen on your skin. This sweat helps your body cools itself and prevents overheating. In a sauna, the air is dry. The sweat evaporates fast, helping control your body temperature. In a steam room, the air is moist. The sweat does not evaporate as quickly. Both places offer significant health benefits. Perspiration is good for you. It helps clean your skin and can make your blood flow better. This can help your body temperature stay right. Many doctors say these places are good for your health. But there are key differences. You need to take safety precautions in these hot environments. Always check how long to stay and what to do after. You might see these rooms next to the dry sauna, treadmill, and weight machine area.

Comparing these two, each has its way to level up your physical exertion experience. They both help with mental health and physical health. But, they work differently. Knowing this difference helps you choose the right one after your gym session.

What is a Sauna vs a Steam Room?

Sauna or Steam? (Must-Know Health Facts!)

Saunas and steam rooms both offer a warm place to relax, but they do it in different ways. A sauna, by the North American Sauna Society definition, is more about dry heat. Think of the traditional Finnish sauna where they get the room hot by putting water on hot rocks. This makes some water vapor, but the humidity level stays low. It’s like being in a very dry, heated place where you start sweating a lot. This sweating elevates your core body temperature.

On the other hand, a steam room—sometimes called a Turkish bath—is all about moist, steamy atmosphere. The humidity is high because there is a lot of water vapor in the air. It feels like being in a cloud. This whole-body heat from a steam room can also make you sweat and has its own benefits. Samuel Mathis, M.D., an assistant professor at the Department of Family Medicine, University of Texas Medical Branch, says the impact is twofold. And Mindy Pelz, M.D., a holistic health and women’s health expert, agrees, saying both offer great benefits in their own different ways.

Sauna health benefits

Sauna or Steam? (Must-Know Health Facts!)
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Research shows spending time in a sauna can improve your health in many ways. It’s good for your heart and can even lower your stroke risk. People who use a sauna regularly may also boost their immune system. This means they can fight off sickness better. Saunas can help control your blood pressure too. They are a great way to help your body relax. Plus, being in a sauna is a chance to meet people and socialize.

There are a lot of benefits to sauna bathing. It’s kind of like exercise for your body. Dr. Hussain says in his clinical practice, using a sauna can work well with exercise. This synergy is great, especially for people who find exercising hard. Frequent sauna use might even reduce the risk of blood clots in your legs or lungs. It can also help prevent lung diseases like pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Setor Kunutsor, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Leicester Diabetes Research Centre, helped write studies on this. They found sauna use and exercise together can have big benefits. This combo is better for your fitness levels and total cholesterol than just exercise alone. It can even lower your mortality risk, no matter your socioeconomic status.

Relaxing in a sauna can also alleviate lower back pain. It might even help with psychotic disorders and dementia. But, more research is needed to validate these uses for particular ailments, without pharmaceutical funding.

A little-known benefit of saunas, compared to steam rooms, is flushing cholesterol from the system. Regular sauna use can help prevent a cardiovascular event like a heart attack or stroke. It also leads to improved immunity against common infections like colds and flus. Saunas can even help with skin diseases, arthritis, and headaches. Plus, it reduces stress and improves relaxation, which is a great health benefit on its own. While not a direct tool for weight loss, being in a sauna supports healthy lifestyle choices.”

Steam Room Health Benefits

Sauna or Steam? (Must-Know Health Facts!)
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Steam rooms and saunas both offer a heated environment for relaxation, but they do it differently. Dr. Mathis explains that the steam in steam rooms is the difference. This steam makes you sweat, but with water droplets from the steam condensing on your skin. This can block your body from cooling itself and raise your core temperature quickly, unlike in dry saunas.

The health benefits of steam rooms include the activation of heat shock proteins. These proteins can decrease inflammation and lower blood pressure. Dr. Pelz says steam rooms can ease joint pain and improve circulation. They are also good for skin issues. Many people use facial steamers for a similar effect. Steam rooms can also help with sinus congestion and other breathing issues because of the warm, humid air.

Which is Better for Your Health?

Saunas and steam rooms are both great, says Dr. Pelz. They help with reducing cholesterol and muscle soreness. In general, there’s evidence they are good for you. But there are potential risks too. Dr. Mathis warns that people might be more susceptible to bacteria and fungus growth in a steam environment because it’s so hot and wet. It’s important to stay aware of any health risk.

From a perspective of health, the differences between a sauna and a steam room are minor. They do fundamentally the same thing: they help relieve stress and can improve your cardiovascular health. Whether you choose a dry sauna or a steam room might just come down to personal preference and how your body reacts to thermal stress.

There isn’t a lot of good-quality evidence that directly comparing the two can make meaningful statements about their health differences. But many research groups are actively studying this. So, we should watch this space.”

Safety

Being careful is key in both sauna and steam room use. If you have a history of fainting or low blood pressure, you need to be extra careful to avoid falls. People who had a heart attack or stroke in the past several months should steer clear. If you have valvular disease or aortic stenosis, the dramatic fluctuations in heart rate and blood pressure can be harmful. Dr. Hussain suggests a precautionary approach, even if there’s not much actual evidence of increased cardiovascular risk.

Before starting any new regimen, it’s smart to speak with your physician about your health status. Research shows benefits and risks for everyone, but there are special guidelines for women. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Pregnancy Association recommend that pregnant women avoid saunas and hot tubs. There’s a higher risk of dehydration, dizziness, and an increase in core body temperature, which can lead to birth defects.

The biggest safety concern with a sauna or steam room is overheating. Dr. Mathis says to always drink lots of water and stick to the recommended time of 15-20 minutes. Watch out for symptoms like dizziness, lightheadedness, fatigue, palpitations, excessive thirst, or nausea. If you feel any of these, it’s time to cool off.

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Some people, like those who are pregnant or have a history of heart disease, aortic stenosis, chest pains, asthma, other breathing conditions, or epilepsy, should avoid these hot spaces. Also, if you have a severe infection, wait until you’re fully well. Always wear shoes to protect against fungal infections on your feet. The moist, heated floor can be a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi.

Never drink alcohol in a sauna or steam room. It can decrease your body’s ability to maintain a stable blood pressure. You could pass out, which is dangerous and can be fatal. Children should only go in with parent supervision. Older individuals need to take extra care to avoid heat stroke.

For those who are pregnant or wanting to get pregnant, elevated body temperature can hurt both the mother and the fetus. And for men, too much heat can lower sperm count.

When Should You Use a Sauna or Steam Room?

The best time and scenario to use a sauna or steam room can vary. Experts told HuffPost it’s often recommended to hit the steam room after a workout. The heat helps with sore muscles. The benefits of steam rooms and saunas can be different. For soreness, Bawer says the warm heat in steam rooms penetrates muscle tissue. This helps relax muscles and improve blood flow. More blood flow means more oxygen and nutrients to help muscles and joints recover.

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For dry heat, like in a sauna, it’s more about wellness or a spa day. This kind of heat is good for long-term wellness and mental relaxation. Using them consecutively can help body temperature go up. This dilates blood vessels, increasing circulation and lowering blood pressure. It also helps with calmness and relaxation.

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Whether you choose dry or moist heat depends on your routine, exercise, and time of day. It’s mostly about personal preference. Dr. Aanand Geria, a dermatologist in New Jersey, says both can help loosen joints and increase flexibility. They’re especially good for elderly patients with stiff morning joints. Making joints and muscles more limber can help prevent soreness.

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Safety concerns for saunas and steam rooms

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What’s the best way to try them out?

To enjoy a steam/sauna session, start by drinking plenty of fluids. Sweating can be profuse and cause dehydration and dizziness. Dr. Brunilda Nazario, a top doc at WebMD, gives some guidelines to get the benefits. After a hard day or workout, a sauna or steam can help, but limit sessions to 15 to 30 minutes, three or four times a week.

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Using a sauna and steam room consecutively can be good, but remember to hydrate. Be mindful of timing. Bawer suggests a preferential order for the most optimal experience. Start with moist heat to help rinse away dirt and grime and cleanse your skin. Then, dry heat can help with congestion as it adds moisture at lower temperatures. After, take a shower to close your pores, using a gentle cleanser and moisturizer, says Ploch.

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The traditional process involves alternating hot and cold exposure, a method Eero Kilpi, president of the North American Sauna Society, calls contrast therapy. A cold plunge or shower after heating up is a great stress reliever and makes you feel like a million bucks.

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Before starting this routine, check with your doctor, especially if you have health conditions or take medications that make you sensitive to heat. Nazario warns that if you’re feeling sick, pregnant, or worried about bacteria that can spread illness or promote growth of viruses making illness worse, you should consult your healthcare provider to make sure this activity is safe for your body. Changes like increase in blood volume and dilation of vessels can have unwanted side effects.”

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Final Thoughts on Which One Is Better

Some people prefer the dry heat of a sauna. Others like the moist heat of a steam room. Both are relaxing. Your health conditions and comfort level can guide your decision. If you’re unsure which option is best, many gyms let you try out both. See which one you feel more comfortable in.

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Both can be beneficial. Remember to stay hydrated and take breaks if you get too overheated. Always follow sauna etiquette. They offer many health benefits and help you relax and unwind. Why not give them a try?

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FAQ’s

Can using a sauna help you “detox” or lose weight?

Spending time in a sauna can improve your health. There are science-backed benefits. Some say sauna bathing facilitates the increased secretion of heavy metals like aluminum, cobalt, and lead through sweating. But, evidence to support this is mixed. Dr. Kunutsor says a sauna might increase your metabolism, which theoretically could help with weight loss. But most research shows the weight you lose is water weight and comes back after you leave the room.

Should you go in a sauna or steam room after a workout?

Yes, it can help you relax and enhances recovery. Dr. Kunutsor says research suggests a sauna can even enhance performance. A study in New Zealand with competitive male runners showed they improved endurance by 32% after using a sauna.

Should you shower before or after using a sauna?

Experts recommend taking a warm shower before entering a sauna and a cool one afterward. The first shower helps ensure you don’t bring dirt or sweat into the shared space and promotes opening pores and relaxation of muscles. The second shower helps your body return to normal temperature.

Should you drink water before you go in a sauna?

Yes, you should drink water before, during, and after a sauna session. Excessive sauna bathing can lead to dehydration, so you need to keep rehydrating. Dr. Kunutsor says to always have a bottle in the room to stand the heat.

How long should you stay in a sauna or steam room, and is it safe to do every day?

Average stays range from five to fifteen minutes. Dr. Kunutsor says the duration depends on your comfort and the room’s temperature. Studies show the greatest effects when participants completed four to seven sessions a week. But it’s never smart to exceed without the green light from a doctor.

Should You Go in the Sauna or Steam Room First?

Choosing whether to enter a sauna or steam room first has no hard and fast rule. It comes down to personal preference.

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Both saunas and steam rooms offer health benefits like helping with cardiovascular health, circulation, lowering cortisol levels, detoxification, muscle relief, stress, and skin. Choosing depends on your specific wellness goals and preferences.

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