Both steam rooms and saunas have been around for thousands of years and were first enjoyed by the ancient Greeks and Romans in their bathing houses. Differing in air humidity and temperature, both of these heat therapy focussed methods have several health benefits, which we will evaluate below.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A STEAM ROOM AND SAUNA?
A steam room is a heated room, similar to a sauna, but with moist heat instead of dry heat and a lower ambient air temperature of about 45 degrees Celcius. The air in a steam room has up to 100% humidity, which is pumped into the room by steam machines filled with boiling water.
A session in a steam room should be limited between 15 and 20 minutes but can be repeated up to three or four times if there are at least five minutes of break time in between so that the body can cool off.
Steam rooms can be used in conjunction with essential oils to enhance the experience for the senses and to stimulate our minds in different directions. For instance, lavender oil makes for a great relaxing atmosphere, while eucalyptus oil feels rather invigorating and is beneficial for our respiratory tract as it can free up our sinuses.
WHEN SHOULD YOU USE A STEAM ROOM?
Steam rooms are great after a heavy workout or when you are looking for a relaxing way to relieve pain and are not keen to sweat as much as during a sauna session.
Some people argue that visiting a mild steam room when being sick with a cold or flu can be beneficial to recover quicker, but be mindful that you should never spread your germs in any public space if you feel sick.
Be sure to first consult your doctor about whether steam rooms are suitable for you.
- Steam rooms operate with lower heat and can therefore be used by people who struggle with extreme heat or suffer from lower blood pressure, for instance, pregnant women.
- You are not going to sweat as much in steam rooms as in a sauna room, which can be beneficial as you are less likely to suffer from dehydration.
- Steam therapy has positive influences on your respiratory system.
- The increased heat releases hormones such as dopamine which gives you an elevated feeling.
- The heat has a relaxing effect on your muscles and joints.
- Public steam rooms might be a place for other people’s bacteria as the moist heat is not enough to kill germs. For this reason, you should also refrain from a visit to the steam room if you have an open wound or recently got a tattoo.
A sauna utilizes dry heat of around 70 to 90 degrees Celcius, which is generated by a gas, wood, or electric stove which sits below several hot rocks on which you can pour hot water to increase the heat in the room or the humidity levels for a short amount of time.
A sauna session is similar to a steam room session and should therefore also not last any longer than 20-25 minutes. You can repeat it for the same amount of times, given that five-minute breaks are implemented in between.
Like a steam room, this water can be enhanced with essential oils, depending on the effect you would like to achieve with your sauna session.
A modern take on the traditional sauna is an infrared sauna, which uses infrared light instead of hot stones and steam to heat the temperature and is, therefore, a bit milder on your system and can be used in conjunction with colour therapy.
WHEN SHOULD YOU USE A SAUNA?
It is recommended to use a sauna after a heavy workout, on a cold winter’s day, or just in general to relax and unwind. You mustn’t use a sauna if you have heavy cardiovascular ailments, open wounds, a cold or flu, or just got a tattoo or laser removal therapy done.
- A good sweat in a sauna can have many health benefits and great workout recovery.
- Infrared saunas have a great effect on your mental health.
- A visit to the sauna makes your body release endorphins which boost your mood and make you feel relaxed.
- It is great for detoxification.
- The high heat inside a sauna can kill germs and bacteria, but you should still be careful to not get an infection; hence the open wounds rule.
- The extreme heat of a dry sauna will also cause you to lose a lot of water weight, which might cause dehydration if you do not drink enough water after your sauna session.
- If you struggle with that high temperature or are pregnant, it is better to not visit the sauna either.
In any case, consulting your doctor before your first sauna or steam room visit is always recommended.
STEAM ROOMS VS SAUNA: WHICH IS BETTER FOR YOU?
There are steam room benefits and similar sauna benefits, but their effects on the body differ slightly. Both have great effects on countering delayed onset muscle soreness and stiff joints; they can improve cardiovascular health and have a positive influence on our immune system and mental health.
Either of these heated rooms reduces stress and prevents you from having too high blood pressure by opening up your blood vessels to transport oxygenated blood more effectively through the body.
IS A SAUNA OR STEAM ROOM BETTER FOR DETOX?
Both heat therapies have a detoxifying effect on the body, as both flush toxins out of the skin by opening up the pores through increased heat and making the body sweat, and increasing the blood flow. This removes broken skin tissue and dead skin, which unclogs pores and is thus improving skin health.
WHO SHOULD AVOID STEAM ROOMS?
You should avoid a steam room if you have:
- Coronary artery disease
- Extremely low blood pressure
- Have suffered from a stroke before
- Heart rhythm problems
- Had a transient ischemic attack (TIA)
- Recently got a tattoo
- Have an open wound
- Recently had tattoo removal therapy via laser
HOW MANY CALORIES DO YOU BURN IN A STEAM ROOM FOR 15 MINUTES?
There is no fixed number as an answer for this question, as metabolic rates differ greatly between every person and gender. A general rule of thumb, however, states that you are likely to burn between 1.5 to twice as many calories when sitting in a steam room for 15 minutes as opposed to sitting on your sofa for 15 minutes.
Neither a steam room nor sauna should be used for weight loss benefits primarily, as these therapies rather aid in detoxifying your body and assisting in a healthier lifestyle, which consists of sufficient exercise, a balanced diet, and good mental health, which saunas and steam rooms can aid in.
WHAT TOXINS DO SAUNAS REMOVE?
Saunas can aid in removing metabolites, which build up during working out, but furthermore, sauna therapy can remove (and isn’t limited to) toxins from alcohol, smoking nicotine, and all sorts of heavy metals which accumulate over the years in our system, as well as pesticides, uric acids, ammonia, and many more.
On top of this, infrared light can have positive effects on our body’s lymphatic system and increase detoxification even further.
Whether you prefer a steam bath because you prefer the moist heat, or are a proponent of an infrared sauna or a traditional sauna, the difference between a sauna and a steam room seems to be merely in preference. Both steam therapy and dry heat have many benefits, of which most are of similar nature.
At the end of the day, it comes down to your personal preference and situation as to whether you should visit low humidity infrared saunas over a traditional steam room.