Steam room

Health Benefits, Risks, Which Is Better?


Getting too hot can be a bit unpleasant: sweating, a flushed face, the feeling that your skin may melt or dry out at any time. Yet people * love * saunas and steam rooms. And it turns out that stuffy chambers could have legitimate health benefits, says Dr. Chiti Parikh, co-director of the Integrative Health and Wellness Program at New York Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center.

But when it comes to saunas versus steam rooms, is one better than the other for your overall well-being? And how do you choose the one that’s right for you? Let’s get into all the sweaty details.

Okay, what is a sauna?

Saunas use dry heat. They are typically heated between 180 ° F and 195 ° F with very low humidity, heated with wood, gas, electricity, or infrared technology (i.e. using light to create heat ).

“It’s like sitting in an oven,” says Dr Parikh. That’s why people often pour water over heated stones in a sauna room – it creates steam for a bit of humidity, she says.

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What are the health benefits of sitting in a sauna?

Research on the use of dry saunas has shown that they can provide certain health benefits.

1. Improved circulation

Anything that raises your body temperature will raise your heart rate, which in turn increases your circulation, says Denise Millstine, MD, internist at the Mayo Clinic family practice in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Sitting in a sauna is almost like walking on a treadmill at a steady pace, says Dr. Parikh. Because of the heat, your heart has to pump harder to keep your blood flowing, which means you get cardio benefits even though all you are doing is sitting in the heat. (Keep in mind, however, that this still doesn’t replace exercise, which has tons of other benefits for the body.)

2. Lower blood pressure

Spending time in a sauna can lower your blood pressure, says Dr. Millstine, but you wouldn’t want to go to a sauna if your blood pressure isn’t controlled.

Studies have shown that traditional Finnish sauna baths is associated with an overall drop in blood pressure when people use it regularly, she explains. “So physiologically, just like exercise, your blood pressure would rise initially, and then over the long term, it would likely lead to better blood pressure management and lower blood pressure.”

In fact, people can see an improvement in their cardiovascular health through sauna use. Research shows that people who regularly use a sauna (at least four times a week for 20 minutes) have a significantly lower risk of heart attack, stroke and dementia, notes Dr. Parikh.

3. Stress relief

Bathing in the sauna is an integral part of Scandinavian culture, says Dr Millstine, and is seen as a way to relax and unwind.

“If using a sauna becomes a regular practice for you and it is something that you can do quite easily, for example coming home from work for a short session, or if you are able to socialize while doing so, doing so, it probably will. reduce your stress level, ”she says.

4. Glowing skin

Using a sauna can be beneficial for the overall health of your skin, as it brings blood flow to the surface of your skin before you start to sweat.

“Regular sauna use makes the skin more robust, which means it tightens and makes it more elastic, which is good for aesthetic reasons, but also because the skin acts as a barrier to general health.” says Dr. Millstine.

5. Relief from stiff joints and sore muscles

Using a sauna is beneficial for workout recovery as it will lead to loosening of tight muscles after a workout.

“The heat can make your muscles more flexible and elastic, so it would likely help relieve recovery pain,” she says. For the record, people with stiff joints and aches swear by saunas for pain relief. Sauna use may also help with tension-type headaches, probably because it reduces the muscle pain that contributes to it, says Dr. Millstine.

6. Stronger immune system

Using a sauna is not directly related to boosting immunity, but if you combine the sauna with relaxation, it will reduce stress, which can affect how your immune system works. Sauna use has also been shown to decrease circulating levels of inflammatory markers, which also disrupts your immune system response.

“There was also a small study that looked at sauna use in some healthy volunteers and they were able to show a reduction in their incidence of colds,” says Dr. Millstine. “So it’s possible that it could help improve your immune system or potentially make your tissues better able to fight off a virus you’re exposed to. “

7. Better mood

Some studies show that sauna sessions can be good for your mood, which could, again, be related to the relaxation factor. However, men in Finland who regularly used a sauna had a reduced risk of psychosis, found a study, and sauna use may reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, another study showed.

“It is not known if these benefits are directly related to sauna use or, again, or if they are simply related to a healthy lifestyle that involves socialization and relaxation,” says Dr. Millstine. Either way, there appear to be positive brain and mental health benefits to visiting a sauna.

What is a hammam, then?

Basically steam rooms are not as hot as saunas and they are much more humid. Typically, steam rooms are heated to between 100 and 120 ° F and have almost 100 percent humidity, says Dr. Parikh. But even if they’re technically not that hot, you will likely feel the heat more in steam rooms than in saunas due to the humidity.

What are the health benefits of hammams?

Steam rooms all have the same health benefits as saunas because the effects of heat are the same whether it’s dry heat or moist heat, says Dr Parikh. This means that you will still get some cardio benefits, as well as reduced pain and stiffness.

But don’t expect too much in the weight loss department. Any actual weight lost will be water weight, you know, from sweating, and that goes for both the sauna and the steam room.

Another myth? The idea that you can detox from a night of drinking in a hammam. You can sweat a product on your skin, like sunscreen, but just sweating won’t help your body process something you’ve ingested, like food or alcohol, says Dr. Millstine.

There is, however, an added benefit to steam rooms for anyone who has breathing problems like asthma or allergies. “Medication for these kinds of breathing problems can dry out your airways,” says Dr. Parikh. “The steam will hydrate and open up the lungs a little more and hydrate the airways.” If you suffer from congestion, the steam can also act as a humidifier and help clear your nasal passages for easier breathing.

Are there any risks in using a sauna or steam room?

As for the risks, it mainly comes down to dehydration and dizziness from the heat, says Dr Parikh. It is therefore important to make sure you are well hydrated before and after your sauna or hammam session. You’ll also want to avoid the sauna if you’ve recently had a heart attack or any other cardiovascular problem, like high blood pressure, as it increases your heart rate, adds Dr. Parikh.

How long can you sit in a sauna or steam room?

Most people’s sessions are only five to 30 minutes long. But how long you can safely use a sauna or steam room depends on your degree of acclimatization or the heat of the sauna or steam room.

“If you’re feeling dizzy or dehydrated because you might be coming back from a long run, it’s not a good idea to spend a long time in the sauna,” says Dr. Millstine. “But if you’re well hydrated and feeling great, you can stay a little longer.”

It’s also common to leave the sauna or steam room for frequent breaks, so get outside and drink water whenever you feel the need, she says.

Dr Parikh suggests starting slowly and slowly. The lower you sit in the sauna or steam room (i.e., closer to the floor), the less intense the heat will be as the heat rises. While it is best for your health to use a sauna or steam room on a regular basis (several times a week, if you can), perhaps start with a single trip to the spa for five or ten minutes at most to see to how much you can handle there, then add from there.

What to wear in a sauna or steam room?

When it comes to shared public steam rooms or saunas in the United States, most people at least prefer to carry a towel, but if you’re lucky enough to have one in your own home, you’ll probably be more comfortable with it. comfortable being naked. If you prefer to wear clothes, natural fibers such as a cotton towel or a loose shirt will likely be more comfortable, says Dr Millstine. If you’re in a gym that allows nudity in the sauna or steam room, you’ll still need a towel to sit on, she notes, as these areas can be breeding grounds for germs.

Should I choose a sauna or a hammam?

Again, if you have breathing issues, it’s best to stick to steam rooms in order to keep your airways hydrated (a sauna could dry them out even more), according to Dr. Parikh. Otherwise, it’s all a matter of personal preference, and you get health benefits from both.

The bottom line: Saunas and steam rooms offer many of the same benefits (and risks), so it’s a matter of personal preference and finding the one that’s right for you.

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