SOOTHING SAUNAS AND STEAM ROOMS
If you want to kick it up another notch and raise health benefits to the next level, visit the sauna or steam room following a workout at the local gym. The intense heat stimulates blood circulation near the skin, which triggers more intense sweating, and you may easily shed a pint or more of sweat — along with accompanying fats and toxins — even in a short stay. Saunas and steam rooms are both good for you, though they tend to impact the body in slightly differing ways. According to Dr. Stengler, saunas and steam rooms help wastes exit out through sweat and sebaceous glands. In the end, which you choose is largely a matter of personal taste. Here’s what you can expect from the various options…
1. Steam rooms provide moist heated air.
2.Traditional European-style saunas provide dry and then wet heat when you splash water on hot rocks or a stove to generate steam).
3. Electric saunas provide only dry heat.
Benefits of intense heat and sweating in steam rooms and saunas include flushing of dirt and debris from the skin… general detoxification… pain relief from conditions such as arthritis, backaches and sports injuries by increasing blood circulation and removing accumulated pain-causing acidic metabolites… stress reduction, and an overall sense of relaxation and well-being.
NEW KID ON THE BLOCK: INFRARED SAUNAS
Dr. Stengler also told me about a relatively new alternative — far infrared saunas. These special saunas harness infrared radiation to heat the skin without warming the air. An infrared sauna usually consists of a wooden box with several infrared heaters, with the box offering the atmosphere of the traditional sauna while heaters emit the actual radiation. People who are fans of infrared radiation point out that it offers the same health benefits as conventional alternatives, but with certain advantages. For example, traditional steam rooms and saunas may be more likely to spread germs because of the moist air, and some people have trouble breathing in air that is very warm. On the other hand, many people enjoy the sensations of relaxation and well-being they more typically associate with sweating out toxins in warm and/or moist air. Once again, it’s a matter of personal preference. Just be careful to avoid over cooking yourself with the penetrating radiant heat.
SAFE SWEATING IN THE SAUNA
Of course, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about using saunas and steam rooms. To safely sweat your way to good health, Dr. Stengler recommends…
* If you are pregnant, or if you suffer high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes or other chronic health problems, check with your physician first. Intense heat makes your heart pump faster and raises your pulse rate by 30% to 50%.
* Don’t visit the steam room or sauna if you’re not feeling well, or if you’ve been drinking alcohol, and leave at once if you begin to feel nauseous, dizzy or otherwise unwell. Those on medications should check with their doctor before using a sauna or steam room. You should also avoid wearing jewelry when inside, so it does not get damaged.
* Drink water before and afterward — 12 ounces for every 15 minutes in a sauna — and continue to sip water while inside. Dr. Stengler adds that an electrolyte solution would be even better, and that more effective versions than the usual Gatorade are available from health food stores. Also be sure to have plenty of salt in your system as well, especially if on medication or if you are prone to low blood sodium (a blood test can tell you if you are). Even a short session can result in significant fluid and salt loss, and you don’t want to become dehydrated or sodium deficient.
* Keep it short and sweet. A general rule of thumb is 10 to 15 minutes in the steam room or 20 to 30 minutes in the dry sauna once or twice a week. Dr. Stengler adds that these numbers really depend on individual health, and healthy people can safely stretch their stays to 15 to 20 minutes in the steam room and as long as 60 to 90 minutes (with cooling off breaks every 15 minutes) in the dry sauna and 30 minutes (with a 15-minute break halfway through) in the infrared sauna. Conversely, people with conditions such as high blood pressure will need to keep sessions shorter. When in doubt, consult your physician for advice. Whether you go low-tech with just exercise or high-tech (if relaxing in the sauna can be high-tech) with saunas and steam, sweating is one simple and effective way to contribute to health and fitness. As always, just be sure you go about it safely.