Both the sauna and the steam are an awesome way to unwind and soothe your tired, aching muscles after a particularly zealous workout. They are similar in the sense that they are both smaller, contained heated rooms meant to sit or lie down in that are believed to host a number of health benefits. There is one key difference between them which is the type of heat they supply (wet vs dry).
Sauna vs steam room is a battle as old as time. They are very similar, yet each provide their own unique benefits. If you’re curious to discern which one has a better effect on your health than the other, we will dive into the differences. So, should you use a sauna or steam room after your workout?
Let’s take a closer look.
The Similarities of Sauna vs Steam Room
Both the steam room and the sauna elevate your heart rate and get your blood pumping due to their high temperatures. An increase in heat means your heart has to work harder by moving blood to the surface of your skin for cooling, in addition to getting an adequate amount to your muscles. This results in a slight cardiovascular effect, and also aids in the transport of oxygen and nutrients to your muscles. The dilation of the blood vessels that the heat causes can also help temporarily lower blood pressure and lessen feelings of tenderness in your achy limbs.
You will sweat excessively in either, helping to dislodge toxins and invigorate the skin and your circulatory system. The flip side is that in both it’s also possible to fall victim to heat exhaustion, which can cause dizziness, nausea, and dehydration.
The increase in sweating, rise in heartbeat, and added lethargy you feel after sitting in a sauna or steam room for 20-30 minutes post-workout is actually something called hyperthermic conditioning. Whether or not you’re doing it on purpose, hyperthermic conditioning has some awesome health benefits.
In fact, a study done in 2007 showed that participants who utilized the sauna or steam room for 30 minutes twice a week showed a whopping 32% increase in their endurance abilities. This is because during hyperthermic conditioning your body has to adapt to stress (heat), and even more so than normal because it is presumably already tired from your gym session.
It also reduces inflammation by releasing the brain chemicals noradrenalin, adrenalin, and cortisol. This temporary spike leads to a reduction of inflammation in the muscles as well as on a cellular level, meaning your body has a better shot at recovery for the time (and a little while after) that you’re sitting in the sauna or steam room.
Hyperthermic conditioning is also an incredible mood booster, which can in turn assist with feelings of confidence and self-esteem (which are always welcome at the gym!). This is thought to partly be due to the hormonal changes that take place when the core body temperature rises above a certain level, as well as the resulting stimulation in certain areas of the brain responsible for pleasure. There has been experimentation with using this method of conditioning as anti-depressant therapy, and studies have so far yielded positive results.
How Sauna and Steam Room Are Different
Saunas are heated by way of small stoves called kiuas. They can either be electric, gas, or less commonly, wood-burning, and they work by warming a pile of rocks that either continually or initially emit heat. The resulting heat is dry in nature, and because of this, saunas can be up to 40 degrees (or sometimes more) hotter than steam rooms. This coupled with the dry air means you’re going to end up sweating a lot.
Steam rooms are warmed by using an external water filled generator that pumps steam into the room. This causes a high level of humidity, or “wet” heat. Because your sweat won’t have a chance to evaporate due to condensation, you will end up sweating more than in a sauna regardless of the lower temperature. This puts steam rooms ever-so-slightly in the lead in terms of detoxing. Steam rooms also soothe your mucosal membranes and can help those with congestion or breathing issues.
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Sauna Vs Steam Room: Who Wins?
If the sole purpose of sitting in a sauna or steam room after a workout is to reap the maximum benefits from your session, then a sauna is most likely a marginally better choice.
Because most of the benefits of sitting in one of these rooms comes from the extreme heat, it only makes sense that the hotter of the two would be the victor. As previously mentioned, heat increases the blood flow to your muscles. This results in a greater nutrient load being carried to your muscles, as well as an increased level of oxygen which aids their recovery. The excessive heat also temporarily raises your metabolic rate and assists in hyperthermic conditioning.
Really, in the end it comes down to personal preference. Some people can’t handle the pressing humidity of a steam room, while others find the sauna too hot. Regardless of which one you pick; they’ll both help you get the most out of your workout
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