Alternating heat, cold and rest: a must
On a spa day, our body experiences heat, cold reactions and rest.
The term “heat” refers to the condition in which our body experiences heat exhaustion, which causes an increase in body temperature and heart rate, and sweating. Prolonged exposure to heat, either dry or moist, can lead to metabolic disorders, which is why it is very important to go through a cold reaction session right afterwards.
After the body has been exposed to heat and has experienced an increase in temperature, cold reactions allow to balance body temperature, as the received heat evaporates completely, and body functions regain natural balance. Cold has, in fact, toning and antispasmodic effects – more easily said, it gradually relaxes the muscles. This was already known in ancient times, when ice and snow were used to ease pain and relax the muscles.
Rest, on the other hand, is the condition in which the body experiences positive sensations and relaxation, where it is possible to balance and optimize the natural physiological state. Comfortable relaxation beds, ideal room temperature, soft music, dim lights and specific drinks are fundamental elements to a complete physiological recovery.
The alternation between heat, cold reactions and rest is one of the key elements to live a beneficial experience in a spa. All three steps are necessary to achieve the desired benefits and skipping one of them would lead to sensations of fatigue and exhaustion instead.
Let’s begin with heat. The Finnish sauna is probably the best-known option, closely followed by the steam bath. But which one to choose? How are they different and what are their specific benefits?
Benefits of the Finnish sauna
In the Finnish sauna, the temperature reaches 80-100° C, while the humidity doesn’t exceed 10-20%, except when water is poured on the hot stones of the stove.
The research about the benefits of the Finnish sauna is rich. The best-known studies by Marc Cohen show how regular exposure to the dry heat of the sauna ensures major benefits to the cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, nervous and respiratory systems. The exposure to dry heat challenges our body, causing it to hyperventilate. The hyperventilation changes the blood pH and prepares it to fight possible future infections. Moreover, the thermal shock caused by the 90° C temperature protects the immune cells and boosts their quantity and activity (Clinical effects of regular dry sauna bathing, 2018).
This results from the fact that, inside the Finnish sauna, our body experiences an increase in basal temperature, and an acceleration in blood flow and energy consumption. These factors activate the body thermoregulation, and the sebaceous glands produce sweat to cool down the body causing the heat to evaporate through the skin pores, thus eliminating great amounts of water containing uric acid, heavy metals, cholesterol, as well as minerals.
The Finnish sauna also helps to stretch the muscles and to balance the sleep/wake rhythm, allowing us to sleep better and to be more alert and focused when we wake up in the morning.
Benefits of the steam bath
The temperature in the steam bath is milder than in the Finnish sauna, reaching about 45°C. Humidity, on the other hand, is through the roof – about 98-100%. Thanks to these characteristics, the benefits of the steam bath are very similar to those of the hammam. The mild temperature is especially relaxing for both body and mind, and our body produces serotonin, the happy hormone.
At the same time, the high amount of steam causes the water droplets to soften the superficial layer of skin, helping the new cells to replace the old ones, thus eliminating the toxins accumulated on the surface of the skin. As a result, the skin will appear clean, regenerated, bright, soft and smooth. It is also possible to enhance these benefits by scrubbing the skin: mechanical exfoliation has remarkable results in terms of firmness, tone and hydration.
Moreover, inside the steam bath, we breathe water in the form of steam, which helps the mucous membranes to remain wet, intact and soft, making it difficult for bacteria and viruses to take root.