Sauna and Steam
Nowadays saunas and steam rooms are a common feature of almost any modern
high-class fitness center or health club.
Although some people may be more familiar with sauna bathing, the concept
of the steam bath dates back at least as long as that of the sauna and is actually
several thousand years old. While the sauna originates from the Northern and
Central European areas ( esp. Finland ), which used to have large forest regions
( traditional saunas were built with wooden logs ), the steam bath developed
in the South Eastern European and Middle Eastern Areas ("Turkish Baths", etc.).
The ancient Greeks considered the steam bath a vital part of their rigorous
physical education program and the ancient Romans were well known for their
elaborate baths, the so called "Thermae".
Since these antique times, people have known about the large array of rejuvenating,
relaxing and healing health benefits of heat-treatment on the human body. Although
the climate in a sauna and steam bath is quite different (a sauna bath is usually
taken at a temperature of 80-90 degrees Celsius and the relatively low level
of humidity of 20- 30 % ; a steam bath operates at approximately 45 degrees
Celsius and 100 % humidity), both sauna and steam baths serve to temporarily
raise the body's temperature to a higher level than normal, generating a condition
called "hyperthermia" (a deliberately generated fever to promote the body's
natural healing response). Both sauna and steam baths therefore also have similar
health benefits. These common benefits include strengthening of the immune
system, improved blood circulation, increased metabolic rate, elimination of
body toxins and cleansing of the skin, relief of muscle tension and stiff joints,
relief of tension and stress, alleviation of sinus congestion due to colds,
asthma and allergies, etc.
With "hyperthermia" creating so many positive physiological responses in the
body, sauna and steam bathing is nowadays as highly popular as ever.
In our modern fitness environment, a sauna bath is generally taken in a wooden
cabin - usually made of pinewood - in which heat is generated by an electric
stove with stones in a basket on its top. Occasionally throwing two or three
water on these hot stones during a sauna bath generates instant steam which
temporarily raises the humidity in the sauna up to 40 % and increases sweating.
A steam bath on the other hand is a room, lined with materials such as granite,
marble or just tiles with steam produced by an electric steam generator. Aromatic
oils (such as eucalyptus or evergreen oil) can be added to the special reservoir
in the steam head, which makes it possible to enjoy the luxury of aromatherapy
while steam bathing.
The use of the sauna and steam bath is actually quite similar. Before entering
a sauna or steam bath, the bather usually takes a warm or cold shower. Sitting
or lying down on a towel in the sauna or steam room for about 12-20 minutes
induces profuse sweating and causes an increase of body temperature by about
two degrees. After a sauna or steam bath it is advisable to cool off under
a cold shower, then relax for some time and drink plenty of refreshing, non-alcoholic
fluids. These steps can be repeated for several times according to the bather's
When comparing the effectiveness of sauna and steam bathing, the balance surprisingly
tips towards steam. Although the temperature in a steam bath is comparatively
low (45 degrees Celsius), the necessary temperature elevation to achieve the
powerful cleansing and healing benefits of hyperthermia are accomplished much
faster and more effectively than in a sauna. This is due to the high levels
of humidity in the steam bath, which eliminate the body's natural cooling process
through perspiration. Although the steam-bather perspires profusely, the sweat
can not evaporate due to the steam bath's high humidity level and therefore
hardly allows for any loss of valuable body heat. The condensation forming
on the bather's body due to the high moisture level actually even becomes the
main heat transfer mechanism.
In the dry atmosphere of the sauna, on the other hand, sweat can evaporate
and thus cool the bather's body, which is an obstacle in reaching the body
temperature necessary to gather the health benefits related to hyperthermia.
in a sauna, toxin-filled sweat can dry on the skin prior to rinsing, a problem
that does not occur with steam, where the high moisture level allows it to
simply run off the bather's body.
Last, but not least, the dry heat in the sauna can cause dehydration of the
skin and may also cause irritation of the mucous membranes; steam bathing on
the other hand relieves inflammation and congestion of upper respiratory mucous
membranes, relieves throat irritation by moistening the air, relieves coughing,
keeps mucous membranes from excessive drying and offers many other health benefits
for the upper respiratory tract.