I just joined a fancy new health spa which comes with a steam room, sauna, swimming pool and Jacuzzi. Until now I had stubbornly stuck to the ‘dungeon’ type gyms that eschewed all these fancy features in favour of more weights and that great manly feeling you get from training in a room where you can see the bricks that make up the walls; but unfortunately the sheer distance I was travelling meant that it really did make sense for me to spend a bit more on a gym that I would be able to use more regularly and conveniently and I must say I have quite enjoyed starting my day with a workout followed by a stint in a hot Jacuzzi.
And another benefit? The guest passes. When my friend recently came to visit I decided to give up one of my passes to let him try out the facilities and this was followed by about two hours in the hot tub talking about life while complimenting each other’s biceps. Good times.
But after using the steam room and sauna it did occur to me that most people – my buddy included – have no idea what they’re for other than to be relaxing. As far as they’re concerned there’s no real health benefit to sitting in them, and it makes no odds which you do first. Here then I’m going to set the record straight for anyone else in that boat by looking at how the steam room and sauna differ, and how you can get the most out of them.
Benefits of Heat Rooms
Both steam rooms and saunas can come under the larger category heading of ‘heat rooms’ or ‘heat baths’. These are rooms designed with the sole purpose of being really hot but that can actually be quite good for you. The point is that by spending time in either room you will sweat a lot and you will increase your heart rate as your body tries to regulate your temperature.
First and foremost this is beneficial for your skin as it will mean that your pores open up and you get rid of toxins and dirt that could otherwise clog your pores and lead to black heads and spots. At the same time the increased heat is also very good for your circulation and this can help to bring your blood closer to the surface of your skin thereby improving your overall skin tone and avoiding a ‘blotchy’ look that some people suffer with.
Another benefit to all this is that you lose water weight which can lead to temporary weight loss. If you want to look cut and defined, then go in the sauna for ten minutes and you’ll come out looking like Bruce Lee and as a better friend to the scales.
Finally there are other therapeutic benefits of going in the sauna or steam room. For one it is brilliant for relaxing and the warmth can practically send you to sleep. At the same time it’s also great for combating congestion and clearing your nasal cavities, and furthermore it’s good for your heart health. Being in the warm can trigger our body to produce more growth hormone, so after a tough workout there are few better ways to relax than sitting in the sauna or steam room for a bit.
But while both the sauna and steam room share these benefits, there are also some important differences to bear in mind and these will most likely dictate which ones you choose to use most often.
One difference worth noting is that usually the sauna will be hotter than the steam room. Saunas are normally 160-200 degrees Fahrenheit while steam rooms tend to stay around the 110-114 degrees level (I say usually because the sauna at my gym seems to be broken or something). This does make the sauna a little more ‘hardcore’ than the steam room, so if you’re new to it you should probably limit your time in there to about 10 minutes for the first few sessions.
Meanwhile the presence or lack of moisture in each room also makes a big difference. In a sauna there is practically no moisture at a low 5-30%, while in steam rooms it’s much higher at around 100%. Coupled with the extreme heat in the sauna this can make the sauna a bit unpleasant for some people, and can also increase the risk of dehydration – it’s important to drink a lot of water before going into the sauna and afterwards to replenish.
On the other hand the large amount of moisture in the steam room can make it somewhat difficult for some people to breathe and again this comes down to personal preference. More concerning it’s important to recognize that steam rooms provide the ideal conditions for bacteria to thrive meaning that you can conceivably pick up a cold or other illness here. Avoid the steam room if you have a cold, and make sure that you invest in a pair of flip-flops to enter the steam room with so that you don’t pick up a nasty verruca (or give someone else yours… ).
In terms of order there’s really not difference and again it comes down to personal preference. If you’re looking to shed water weight ready for a trip down the beach then heading in the steam room first will make slightly more sense, but otherwise it’s just a matter of which you’d rather use/which you’d rather use first.