Sauna Vs. Steamer

Sauna Vs. Steamer

Medically reviewed in August 2021

In 2014, when the Miami Heat played in their fourth NBA final they thought they’d stay hot for seasons to come. But they cooled down when LeBron took his steam to Cleveland and brought a whole new kind of heat to the Cavs.

There’s a lot of heat in saunas and steam baths, too, but like those teams they’re different. Saunas produce a dry heat between 160° and 200°F with a humidity of 5 to 30 percent; steamers run about 110° to 114°F with 100 percent humidity. And those differences trigger distinct bodily reactions.

A study in The Biology of Sport measured how a sauna and steamer can affect you. Turns out body-mass-loss was two times higher in a sauna than a steamer; heart rate increased by almost 60 beats a minute in a sauna and 72 beats a minute in a steamer. As for your blood pressure? Folks’ top number (systolic or heart-pumping pressure) rose more from a sauna (up 20 points vs 17.7 in the steamer) and the lower number (diastolic or heart-resting pressure) fell more in the steamer (down 20 points vs 15 in dry heat). 

That’s why, if you have heart disease or other chronic conditions, ask your doctor if either environment is good for you. In sauna or steamer, only spend 15 minutes, max. Drink a large glass of room temperature water before and two to four glasses after. Cool down gradually (no cold shower or immediate ice tub). And if you start feeling woozy, get out pronto!

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