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What is Better After a Workout – Steam Room or Sauna?

Relaxing always seems to feel better after a tough workout. Allowing your muscles to rest while soaking up the post workout endorphin glow is one of the reasons so many people find physical exercise so pleasurable. But what about adding a steam room or sauna session to your post workout routine? Can spending some time in their super heated environments help with workout recovery and wellbeing? And what is better after a workout steam room or sauna? In this article, we’ll compare and contrast the two.

Steam Room Versus Sauna – What’s The Difference?

The main difference between steam rooms and saunas is the type of heat they generate. As the name suggests, a steam room’s source of heat is the steam created by boiling water. Water is heated in a boiler adjacent to the steam room and the resulting steam is pumped in. This creates what’s known as a wet heat which comes with an elevation in humidity. Steam rooms can very often reach a relative humidity level of 100%. Because of this humidity the sweat your body produces doesn’t evaporate as easily as it would in a dry environment making it more difficult for your body to rid itself of toxins. However, the humidity is beneficial to mucous membranes and can allow you to breathe easier. Steam rooms usually reach a maximum temperature of about 50 degrees Celsius.

A sauna, on the other hand, is considered to be a source of dry heat. Electricity, gas or possibly wood are used to superheat sauna rocks which then radiate a heat that lacks steam. Some saunas, known as wet saunas, allow you to pour water over the rocks to generate steam, but the amount is very little compared to what’s produced in a steam room. The relative humidity of a wet sauna is typically between five and 20%. The low relative humidity allows sweat to quickly evaporate which is thought to bring toxins to the skin’s surface Saunas are also typically hotter than steam rooms and can reach temperatures of 90 degrees Celsius or more.

Steam Room Versus Sauna – How Are They Similar?

What both steam rooms and saunas do is elevate your body temperature. Because of your body’s predilection to cool off when exposed to high temperatures, your heart rate will increase, your blood will flow faster, your blood vessels will dilate and your blood pressure will fall. All these processes can reduce muscle pain, hasten the excretion of body toxins, and reduce tension in the joints.

One of the most recently discovered benefits of using steam rooms and saunas is known as hyperthermic conditioning. It’s been found that regular use of these superheated rooms can increase the ability to perform endurance related activities. It’s thought that the body’s adaptation to high heat is the reason for this increase. The brain also releases chemicals such as adrenalin which can reduce the inflammation caused by exercise. There also appears to be a boost in hormone levels which are responsible for feelings of elation and euphoria – similar to what a runner will experience during the so-called runner’s high. 

What Is Better After A Workout – Steam Room Or Sauna?

Because a sauna appears to cause the user to sweat more, it could be argued that spending time in a sauna after a workout can provide more benefits. The increase in perspiration is thought to bring more toxins to the skin surface giving it a slight advantage in the detoxification department. The higher temperatures of a sauna may also get your heart working harder and reduce your blood pressure more. But personal comfort will also play a role in which approach is better. Some people find the humidity in a sauna too low which can cause problems with breathing. The lower temperatures of a steam room may be considered more comfortable by some.

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