Saunas vs. Steam Rooms

In recent years, recovery has become its own subculture within the fitness industry. After all, how will we be able to optimize our workouts if we don’t have optimal recovery? Bathhouses and spas have championed the benefits of saunas and steam rooms for years, but how do their effects differ?

What is the difference between a sauna and a steam room?

Saunas use dry heat, typically between 180 and 200 degrees F, with wood, gas or electrical stoves and heated rocks. Some modern saunas use infrared light to heat and penetrate the skin, muscles and cells. Doctors suggest using saunas for no more than 20 minutes, a couple of times a week.

Steam rooms are cooler, resting between 100 and 140 degrees F, but are at nearly 100 percent humidity. While steam rooms are kept at cooler temperatures, the experience inside is more intense and feels much hotter than a sauna. Doctors recommend spending no more than 15 minutes in a steam room.

Saunas and their benefits

The dry heat of a sauna raises your temperature and increases circulation and blood flow to the skin while directing blood away from the internal organs. On average, your heart rate will increase by 30 percent and you will lose about a pint of sweat.

A study from Japan found that saunas improved vascular function after two weeks of consistent use. Another study done in 2009 discovered the benefits from infrared saunas for users with rheumatoid arthritis—after eight sessions, patients had statistically significant reductions in pain and stiffness.

Steam rooms and their benefits

Steam can work wonders on your skin and promote detoxification. While your pores are opening, the skin detoxifies and absorbs the moisture from the room, giving you a mini-facial.

The heat and moisture of a steam room can improve circulation and warm sore muscles, prepping them for a good stretch and promoting recovery. A study published by Medical Science Monitor found that a steam promotes overall wellness, organ function and a healthy immune system, and aids muscle tension and recovery.

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