Are Hot Tubs, Steam Cabins and Saunas Good for Your Health?
Steam cabins, hot tubs and saunas are all brilliant for relaxing after a long day. But are there genuine health benefits to using them? And are there any health risks you should be aware of before trying them out? Below, we'll explain some of the potential benefits and risks of using these products.
Benefits of using a hot tub
A hot tub is a vessel filled with warm water that has jets to gently massage your body. Portable or permanent, wooden or inflatable, they’re a fun addition to the garden and are great for social occasions. So, how can a hot tub benefit your health?
Relieves stress and relaxes muscles
Firstly, hot tubs are a fantastic way to unwind. The warm water and massaging action are ideal for destressing and relaxing tense muscles, just what you need after a hectic day at work.
Improves insulin sensitivity
Heat therapy – such as using a hot tub – shows promising signs of improving insulin sensitivity. This means it may be a useful tool for treating type 2 diabetes and obesity.
Improves cardiovascular health
Using a hot tub has also been found to improve cardiovascular health. Cardiovascular disease is associated with strokes, heart attacks, heart failure, angina, peripheral arterial disease and other issues.
Sick of sleepless nights? Passive body heating (PBH), which may include taking warm showers, taking warm baths or using a hot tub, has been shown to improve sleep quality. One small, older study found that PBH improved sleep for female insomniacs. In another study, elderly people reported a better night’s sleep or falling asleep more quickly after PBH.
It’s no replacement for proper exercise, but passive body heating can help burn calories. One study found that soaking in a hot bath for 60 minutes burns as many calories as a 30-minute walk. This could be especially beneficial to those who find it difficult to exercise.
Benefits of using a steam cabin
A steam shower cabin is a shower pod that fills with steam. It generally has seating so you can maximise your comfort. It may also include other features – such as a drencher head, jets, mood lighting, an aromatherapy system or a built-in sound system – to add functionality and provide a more immersive and multisensory experience. Steam showers offer several potential health benefits.
Boosts your immune system
There’s no proof that using a steam shower can kill an infection. However, exposing your body to warm water has been found to stimulate cells called leukocytes. These help your body to fight infections and boost your immunity.
Want to improve your circulation? A steam cabin might help. Moist heat boosts circulation and is especially effective in your extremities.
If you feel relaxed after using a steam room, it might not be your imagination. For some people, steam rooms have been found to increase the body’s aldosterone production and decrease cortisol production. Reduced cortisol levels make you feel more relaxed and in control, while aldosterone helps to lower blood pressure.
Loosens joints and relieves sore muscles
Using a steam shower before exercising may help to loosen up your muscles. There’s evidence to suggest that joints become more flexible after applying heat. This gives you fuller range of movement for a more effective workout. Moist heat is also effective for muscle recovery and works more quickly than dry heat.
Spending time in a steam cabin can reduce sinus and lung congestion and could even reduce the time it takes for you to recover from a respiratory infection. This is because being in a steam-filled room encourages deep breathing and warms the mucous membrane.
Promotes healthier skin
Steam is also great for your skin. Steam hydrates your skin, aids in the absorption of skin care products and promotes collagen and elastin for a firmer and more youthful look.
Benefits of using a sauna
A sauna is a building or small room that is heated to 65-90°C. It differs from a steam cabin in that it uses dry heat rather than steam. It also offers some interesting health benefits.
Loosens joints and relieves sore muscles
Saunas can also help to loosen muscles and relieve sore muscles after a workout. When it comes to muscle recovery, however, we’d pick the steam cabin over the sauna because moist heat appears to be more effective than dry heat.
Sauna bathing has been linked to reduced pain and symptoms associated with musculoskeletal disorders including fibromyalgia rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
Relieves tension headaches
Saunas may also help with tension headaches. One study found that using a sauna helped people suffering with chronic tension-type headaches, substantially reducing headache intensity.
Reduces the risk of cardiometabolic diseases
Sauna use may reduce a person’s risk of developing cardiometabolic diseases (CMD). Cardiometabolic diseases include obesity, heart disease and sudden cardiac death. One study found that saunas improved the health of people in high-stress occupations, such as firefighters, first responders and military personnel, who are more likely to develop CMD. Remarkably, these physiological benefits could even be seen after a single sauna session.
May benefit psoriasis sufferers
Health risks of using a steam cabin, sauna or hot tub
Who shouldn’t use saunas, steam cabins and hot tubs?
While steam showers, saunas and hot tubs are an excellent way to relax, they are not safe for everyone to use. It's best to avoid them if you are pregnant, immune-compromised or have recently undergone surgery, if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure or heart disease, or if you have low blood pressure, skin injuries or a UTI.
If you have (or have had) these conditions or any other health conditions, please make sure to check with your doctor before using a sauna, hot tub or steam cabin.
With all that said, what are some of the potential risks of using these products?
Fainting and overheating
If you get too hot, your body will sweat to try and cool you down. To facilitate this process, more blood will flow closer to the skin. This means less blood for your brain and other internal organs, making you more likely to faint.
Saunas, hot tubs and steam cabins also make it harder to lose heat by sweating. This causes your core temperature to rise, which can be dangerous if you are pregnant, especially in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. It can also be dangerous if you have heart disease.
All that sweating can leave you dehydrated - in fact, the average person will produce a pint of sweat after only a short amount of time in a sauna. It's best not to stay in for more than 15 minutes at a time. Make sure to stay hydrated and avoid drinking alcohol when using them.
Increased pulse rate
In saunas, your pulse rate can increase by more than 30%, doubling the amount of blood it pumps around your body. While lowered blood pressure can be a benefit of steam rooms and saunas, it’s not the case for everyone. The effect is unpredictable and some people's blood pressure actually increases. That's why it's best to check with a health professional before using a sauna if you have any issues with your heart, such as heart rhythm problems or a history of stroke.
Accidents are not uncommon in saunas, especially those where alcohol is involved. In Finland, it's estimated that alcohol consumption is a contributing factor in more than 20 sauna-related deaths every year! That's why you should avoid using them if you have been drinking or are otherwise unsteady on your feet.
Bacteria can thrive in a hot tub, especially a poorly cleaned one. All sorts of germs can live there, including legionella and pseudomona, which causes rashes and swimmer’s ear. That’s why it’s best to clean your hot tub thoroughly and regularly.
Are steam cabins, hot tubs and saunas worth it?
Steam shower cabins, hot tubs and saunas all carry a variety of potential health benefits. However, they also pose risks for people with certain health issues, so we would recommend checking with a health professional before trying them out.
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