I think that heat+water is possibly the best combination ever devised, excluding the summer in the deep south. Other than that, you name it – hot baths, hot showers, steam baths, saunas, hot springs – and I love it. I’m not alone, either. Most of the rest of the world has and uses public steam baths and saunas, often every day. Even throughout the history of this country, hot springs have been believed to have positive medicinal effects. Truth be told, heat+waters is a pretty magical combination for your health, which is why private steam baths and saunas are starting to become common even in our quick shower in the morning culture. But what do they do for you that’s so great?
Good For Your Heart
This is, really, the root of all the benefits of steam baths and saunas; raising your body temperature makes your heart work just a little bit harder, which improves your circulation like a little kick start to really knock everything else in your body into action. If you have a heart condition, you should probably consult your doctor before cranking the heat too high (just like you wouldn’t want to spend too long in a very hot jacuzzi), but for everyone else, a steam bath or sauna can help keep that oh-so-important muscle in prime condition. Steam baths that are built into shower enclosures are especially good if you’re concerned about the heat, as you can just turn on a cool shower and get your body temperature back to normal quickly.
Circulation Is Good For Your Skin…
As to the myriad of benefits offered by improved circulation, one that you might not expect is that it’s actually good for your skin. The heat of a steam bath or sauna increases blood flow not only to your extremities, but also to the surface of your skin, breathing new and natural life and luster into it. The heat also opens up your pores and makes you sweat, which might not sound so pleasant, but it’s absolutely the best way to purge the gunk that builds up inside your skin, bring nutrients to the surface, naturally moisturize your skin, and help you shed old, dead skin, making your skin seem radiant and new…because it is.
…And Your Muscles…
Improved circulation is good for your muscles, too, and this is actually one of the most common reasons that people have steam baths or saunas – the heat just plain helps you relax. It’s no coincidence that you get the same, relaxing, “aah” feel when you take a hot shower, a hot bath, or just curl up in a warm blanket on a cold day. Heat soothes tension and muscle aches, making your body relax and unclench. Saunas and steam baths like the one above from Steamist are excellent for people who suffer from chronic muscle pain and arthritis, and can help you keep your pain low and your mobility high.
…And Your Metabolism
Improved circulation doesn’t just mean improved blood flow, it means heightening all the systems in your body, including your metabolism. Now, I won’t say that if you buy and use a steam bath you’ll drop 10 lbs in the first week or anything, but daily use of a steam bath or sauna can improve your overall metabolic rate. The less obvious result of this is that your body is also better at detoxing. The better your circulation, the better your body’s purification, and the more you sweat, the more you’re sweating out toxins and impurities, and improving your overall health.
Good For Your Breathing
The other most common medical reason for a person to want a steam bath (or, to a lesser extent, a sauna, which offers a drier heat) is that breathing in hot steam does miracles for your respiratory system, improving breathing and opening up your airways. People with chronic breathing problems, asthma, or even allergies can use steam baths to treat their ailments – a treatment which is often recommended by doctors, and which offers a more natural alternative to chemical treatments. If you want a steam bath strictly for medicinal purposes, and don’t want to do a major bathroom renovation, you can buy freestanding steam showers like this Steam Shower from Aston.
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So Will It Be A Steam Bath
Both saunas and steam baths offer largely the same health benefits, but the experience of using one is fairly different from the other, as is the construction and installation. One of the main benefits of a steam bath like the one above from Mr. Steam is that it can be integrated into a shower remodel, provided you’re doing some new tile work and you can make the shower doors fully enclosed and water tight. A steam generator can be installed up to 25 feet away from the steam bath (unless you have a built in variety like the steam shower above), and is relatively small, so it won’t take up much space. That said, they produce an obviously very moist heat, which some people can find stifling (though it helps to get in as the steam generator is starting up rather than once its already in full swing).
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Or A Sauna?
Saunas are a more traditional structure – the grandfather of the modern steam bath, if you will – and offer a much drier heat that can be punctuated with bursts of steam by pouring water over the hot rock sauna heater. This allows you to attain a higher heat than you can in a steam bath (the water intensifies the feeling of heat), but the largeish, usually electric sauna heater has to be inside the sauna to heat it. That means that a sauna has to be its own structure, and can’t have an integrated shower. Saunas are usually made of wood – and, in fact, are frequently sold in residential Sauna Kits – and can be as small as a closet or as large as a guest room, depending on your needs and how you intend to use it. That also means that you don’t need to be in the middle of a big renovation to get one – you just have to have some free space to put it in and an outlet to plug it in to.
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Which you prefer is almost entirely a matter of personal preference, so if you’re considering buying one or the other for your home, I can’t recommend strongly enough that you find one of each – public or belonging to a friend – and try it out before you buy. Even if it means having to spend ten minutes with a dude in a speedo at your local Y, getting a first hand experience is vital to knowing what it’s like and what you like – and by extension, whether or not you’ll use it – before you put in the investment. What has you in the market for a steam bath or a sauna? Are you looking to address any particular ailment, just trying to live well, or trying to figure out what should make the cut for your luxury bathroom remodel?