Steam vs.Sauna

In the Sauna vs. Steam debate, who gets the "thumbs up"

From ancient Greek steam baths, to Native American sweat lodges the ancients have known the benefits of a good steam after hard work. Today the heat of saunas and steam rooms offer additional recovery benefits to athletes, and those who work hard . Steam and Sauna both aid the overall health of the skin as well as improve respiratory and circulatory benefits for people that exercise, as well as those who don't. Both the steam room and the sauna create the desired effect of creating a temporary fever, or rise in temperature in the body, a process called hyperthermia. Both serve the needs of different groups, and it's important to learn them to make your sauna vs. steam room decision.
The dry heat of a traditional sauna starts with a heater that heats up a stack of rocks. Those rocks radiate heat into the room. In a hot rock sauna, the result is high temperature up to 200° F, and low humidity about 10%. Saunas are built of wood for a reason, wood absorbs moisture, which not only keeps the surfaces cooler but also helps pull humidity out of the air. In a dry sauna, the high heat is well-tolerated by the body because perspiration evaporates quickly without humidity present. In most saunas, you can pour water over the heated rocks to generate some steam and boost the humidity a bit, although nowhere near the level of a steam room. Saunas have a vent, usually found near the floor by the heater, that continually brings in fresh air and limits the humidity buildup. 

Some newer therapeutic saunas, however, use infrared light, which penetrates the skin much deeper than the hot rock radiant heat. Inside a steam room, a device called a steam generator boils water into steam and releases it into the air. Unlike a sauna, a steam room is nearly airtight, so the humidity builds to 100%. The air is so damp that water condenses on the walls. A steam room does more than just open the pores and ease breathing. It makes you sweat profusely. Sweat, which is a necessary function of the skin, contains urea the same stuff in urine, so it's beneficial for the body to relieve itself of this metabolic by-product. If you have respiratory problems and allergies then the steam room is your choice versus the dry sauna since the moist air will help with your sinuses and airways. Steam inhalation is effective on sinusitis, bronchitis, asthma, even coughing, or any malady which can be helped by moisture in the air. The sauna is generally preferred over a steam room for those who can't tolerate humid environments which would include people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, or have open cut's. That band-aid won't stay on for one minute. in a steam room.

Most Dry saunas are social gathering places where you can relax and have a conversation. Not so with a steam room you can't see the person next to you, and you are sweating so profusely that soon you can't wait to use the rinse shower to cool off or get the hell outa there !! Now even though the temperature is hotter in a sauna, your body is better able to effectively dissipate it's heat. This is because the sweat will evaporate in the hot dry air of the sauna. On the other hand the body can't cool itself as effectively in a steam room because there is no evaporation of the water vapor. To get a better idea of this, imagine being submerged in a Jacuzzi or a hot bath, where heat loss through evaporation is impossible due to almost total water submersion. That's why a hot bath of 100° F feels much hotter on the skin than a sauna with a temp of 180° F. When you climb out of a hot tub you can visibly see the heat dissipating in the form of steam from your body. That's why there is a drench shower inside the steam room, or next to a hot tub. To dissipate your body heat. Too long of an exposure without any cooling will act like a high fever and begin rather quickly, to cook your brain cells. Let me say that again COOK your brain cells. Causing a slowing of cognitive function, possibly resulting in passing out. This could be very dangerous, and why you should never be alone when excessively raising your body temp. in a closed room unobserved.

The benefit is heat loosens muscles, through greater circulation, and a greater range of motion is obtained. Along with muscle relaxation. Which also allows for better circulation. Likewise, after an cold run or swim, a short sauna or steam can prevent muscles from cramping. Let's take a look why. It's called being hyperthermic (artificially raising your body temp.) We operate at 98.6 degrees, when you immerse yourself in a 104 degree hot tub, you are essentially giving your body a temporary fever, and your blood starts to boil. So your heart starts pumping twice as fast to move the blood past the skin level so it can ventilate and cool off. If you are a healthy athlete, "Rock On" it's a time proven method for moving lactic acids out, quicker than not doing any thing at all. I can personally vouch for this. However, if you are overweight, don't exercise, smoke, are taking med's, under stress and or getting up there in years... Well let's just say I wouldn't use a steam, sauna or hot tub by yourself. You would be inviting disaster in the door. Get a designated sweater to accompany you. The reality is, that you see these overweight, hungover guy's in the sweat rooms by themselves, all the time at clubs. Now the Mayo clinic, myself and all major sports teams and their trainers agree on this one, for you competitive athlete boy's and girl's, listen up. Because of the fact, that sauna and steam both increase body temperature, and blood flow. We would NOT recommend using them as a form of recovery for at least, 24 hours after a hard training session. This is because a hard training session causes muscle fiber damage and microscopic tears and swelling in and around the muscle fibers. If you then raise body temperature and blood flow, you may increase the swelling and delay your recovery. The best form of recovery post training is an ice bath, or localized icing.

This therapy works opposite to steam and sauna in that it decreases the body's temperature. This stimulates the body to decrease blood flow to the arms and legs and divert most of the blood to the internal organs like your heart, lungs, intestines, etc. Decreased blood flow to the peripheries means less swelling. Therefore, the body should take less time to recover. Use an ice bath for 10 to 15 minutes after hard training to stunt swelling and speed recovery. This is for hard training, competitive athletes young and old. Not a recommendation for folks who work out a couple of times a week.

There's no evidence to support claims that either saunas or steam rooms, detoxify the body. The heat will open up your pores, which will help your skin by evaporating surface toxins, but it doesn't draw toxins out of your organs through the skin, and the ability of saunas and steam baths to help you lose weight is greatly overstated.

Spend a significant length of time in either environment and you'll sweat enough to make a difference on the scale, but the loss is all water weight. When you replenish your body's fluids, you'll be back where you started. Use your head, don't use a sauna, steam, or hot tub without bringing a water do drink. The heat they generate has the ability to dehydrate your brain cells and organs like your heart. So in the debate I'd have to say... it's a draw from everything I've read it's a matter of personal preference. For me socializing as I said before pick the sauna, for therapeutic pick the deeper penetrating infra-red sauna, but for a real sweat go for the steam. Always check with your doctor first if you are taking prescription med's or are excessively overweight. Enjoy a sweat with a friend soon, and catch up on thing's. Good Luck..

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