The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, February 27, 2000

The hot way to health
By Anup Deb Nath

SAUNAS, spas, steam baths and Jacuzzi are relatively new to our country and many of us feel that they are simply money-spinning gimmicks which do not improve our health in any way. However, the reality is that all these have many benefits and are also a great way to relax.

Hot water baths are a good way relaxSaunas are in no way new to the world, and were invented by the Finns several thousand years ago.

The famous Roman baths included a steam room, even the Russians and Turks had their own versions of steam baths. Others like the American Indians and the Scandinavians go a step further — they first soak in the sauna and then dip themselves in pools of cold water.

Many people get confused between a steam and sauna or the hot tubs that many places offer. Basically they are all the

same in the principle they employ — that of heat — but the temperature varies in each one. Saunas have the highest temperature range, going up to 110C but are low in the humidity factor — about 7-20 per cent — which is what makes the heat endurable.The temperatures in a steam bath are lower — around 50 C — because the air in a steam bath is at the highest humidity level. Hot tubs are the coolest with temperatures ranging between 22C to 45C.

  Many people feel that there is a lot of hype surrounding these heat-based treatments and that theit effect on the body are negligible, if any at all. This is not true; these can soothe aching, tired muscles, reduce stress and actually restore energy.

Explaining how heat works on the body, Dr. Ethan R. Nadel, Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Physiology at Yale University, School of Medicine, says: "After the skin becomes warm, the heat moves up from there to the body core. Trying to keep its temperature stable, the body eliminates heat in its centre by sending blood to the extremities and surface skin to be cooled, where it has already induced sweating to lower temperatures through evaporation. The heart rate increases to accelerate the outward blood flow and this heightened heart activity promotes a certain amount of cardiovascular tone. This is good for you though it can be dangerous for someone who has cardiac disease."

The heat acts as a form of beneficial stress on the body, which produces physiological changes such as increased heart rate, and an increase in stress hormones. Many doctors feel that just as exercise helps the body become stronger and better able to withstand shocks, heat and cold treatments keep the body in shape in a different way. These provide a workout for your inner body.

Looking at saunas, steam baths and other such methods simply as a means of weight loss is not correct. Done incorrectly or taken to extremes, saunas, steam and hot tubs can actually harm you. Dehydration is a common problem and a fear with many people. Due to the dry heat in a sauna, if you stay in there too long, it could lead to dehydration particularly as you lose fluids through perspiration at the same time. It is important, therefore, to remember to replenish all the fluid that your body has lost.

It is precisely this loss of fluid in heat programmes that make many people sell them as an alternative method of weight loss. Actually any weight that you lose at the end of one sitting can be regained with the next meal you eat. So it doesn’t count towards real weight loss.

Some points to keep in mind while using the sauna, steam, or hot tubs:

Try to eat at least two hours before you use the sauna or then any heat treatment.

Take a warm shower before entering the sauna, or steam and use soap. This will open the pores and remove any surface dirt as well.

Do not to use any moisturiser on your skin as it will only block the pores and not let perspiration escape freely.

If you have dry hair use a conditioner and leave it on when you go into the sauna or steam room. It will soak in better this way and you can rinse it off in the shower later.

If you are a first time user, stay in the sauna as long as you feel comfortable, even if it is only for a few minutes. Give yourself time and you will be able to stay in longer after a while.

Try to have a cool shower after the heat treatment as it will close the pores, but don’t let the water be too cold.

Steam has many benefits and is also felt to be more bearable by many people. Medical evidence has shown that steam is beneficial for asthma as it relieves bronchial constriction. Hot tubs can benefit people with sinus problems since they inhale warm, moist air. Saunas are great stress relievers as well and relax aching muscles and other such aches and strains.

There are a few dangers that can be avoided by exercising a little caution while using heat-based treatment. Heat stroke can develop if care is not taken and one of the greatest dangers is in exercising while in the sauna or steam.

People who have heart trouble, diabetes, high or low blood pressure are usually advised against using heat-based treatments. If you suffer from any of these ailments, it is advisable to check with your doctor before you begin. Alcohol and heat can have a disastrous effect when mixed. Both these, when combined, can place a lot of stress on the heart and even lead to a life-threatening situation. So try not to mix the two. It is best to use heat treatments as and when recommended and not overdo it.