Heat up, sweat out with saunas, steam rooms

Nobody has been able to find that myth-induced fountain of youth yet or the cure for the common cold.

But cultures have searched for ways to look and feel healthier and younger since the beginning of time.

One can, as the old adage goes, eat an apple a day, or meditate, exercise or put on thousands of creams to feel youthful.

Or, you can throw your clothes off, have a seat, close your eyes and let the all-encompassing sauna or steam room do it for you.

"My skin feels refreshed, like I've been cleansed from the inside and out because it opens up my pores," said Miguel Rodriguez, 36. He prefers to use a sauna at his local gym occasionally because he has more control over the level of heat. He's also used a sauna to help him lose weight.

Others use a sauna or steam room simply because it feels good. "I've used a sauna millions of times in the hotels," said KarliRae McNett, 19. "I don't like steam rooms though because I feel like I cannot breathe in them. There is too much steam."

The differences

Before you jump in to a steam room or sauna, you should know there are differences between the two, and understanding these can help you achieve the maximum benefits out of your session.

"Both involve heat," explained Jennifer Rainbolt, a massage therapist for New Seattle Massage, 4519 1/2 University Way N.E., which has a steam room and a sauna. "Both also produce sweat that take the toxins out of the body. But a sauna has a drier heat."

The fundamental differences between a steam room and a sauna are the temperatures and the amount of moisture present in the air. The steam room produces a wet heat that is carried by water vapor, and the walls are typically tiled or marbled. Hot, porous rocks that emit a dry heat warm a sauna, and because the humidity is low, saunas are made of wood.

Specific health benefits

The objective that can be achieved by both is relaxation; however, each room carries with it particular health benefits.

"If I am really sore, I use a sauna because it helps my muscles to relax," stated Jesse Audije, 40, who suffers from chronic back pain.

Linda McCoy, a massage practitioner for New Seattle Massage, said that although a sauna does help sore muscles feel good, a steam room should be used if a person is about to get a massage.

"The moist heat from a steam room helps muscle tissue to absorb moisture," McCoy explained. "Then tissue can be massaged more easily, and it provides for a nice, soothing massage."

McCoy said also that a sauna is better for sweating out toxins, like lead and mercury, that are accumulated in the body: "This follows the old Scandinavian and Finnish methods, which were used for deep cleansing."

In addition, those like Rodriguez who use the sauna to lose weight may be benefiting themselves more than steam-room dwellers because the sauna, in terms of burning calories, places a greater demand on the body.

Interestingly, according to some health experts, a steam room is better for deliberately creating a fever in patients used for natural healing as it raises body temperature to destroy organisms.

A select service

Given these health benefits, one would certainly want to try out a sauna or steam room on their quest to feeling younger and healthier. The place that comes to mind to find these services is the spa. However, many spas in Seattle do not offer either service.

"Most bigger places have space for saunas and spas, but we have a smaller space," said Jennifer Trin, manager of Spa Envy, 4530 Union Bay Place N.E. "Why have them if they are not going to be used?"

Another reason why many spas do not offer these services is because their focus is different.

"We are more of a medical day spa," said a representative of Ageless Center for Rejuvenation, 601 N. 34th St., who wished not to be named. "Our focus is more cosmetic, such as skin care."

Matria O'Hora, a representative of Hothouse Spa & Sauna, 1019 E. Pike St., stated that outside cultures have always had a bathhouse or sauna. "In this culture, it is less heard of," she said, observing that spas from different cultures, such as Korea and Russia, are beginning to open up in places near Seattle.

O'Hora noted that Hothouse was not a day spa, where facial and manicures are done, but a place where you take care of yourself in other ways. However, she explained that it was easier to name Hothouse a spa rather than a bathhouse. "In this country, a spa is just more accepted," she said.

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