This article was updated August, 2023.
I’ve loved the feeling of sauna bathing for many years, but only as a rare treat when on holidays or visiting a health retreat. In the past three or four years, I’ve started indulging in the sauna regularly. Having always viewed sauna as nothing more than a relaxation tool, I stumbled across a few articles about all of the health benefits of sauna use. I went down the rabbit hole of research into sauna use and it turns out there are a load of reasons why regular sauna bathing is good for you! My search for local sauna facilities lead me to a number of great local businesses. If you’re wondering where to find a sauna in the Illawarra, you’re in the right place.
What are the benefits of Sauna use?
Believed to have originated in Finland, saunas, steam rooms, and hyperthermia therapy have been used by generations around the world for various health reasons. There’s a definite trend in sauna use as well as complimentary cold therapies such as cold plunges and ice bathing.
The main benefits of saunas include:
1. Improved cardiovascular health
With a 20 minute sauna session raising the heart rate to 120-150 bmp, it can improve heart health in a similar way to aerobic exercise. Studies have shown clear reductions in blood pressure when saunas are used regularly. While sauna use certainly shouldn’t replace actual physical activity, it is a great health practice to incorporate in to your overall wellness routine. As an added bonus, the energy required for the body to sweat and the increase in heart rate will burn off some bonus calories!
2. Stress reduction
The elevated temperature in a sauna relaxes muscles, increases blood flow and produces endorphins (those feel-good chemicals). Enjoy the simplicity of shutting off from the outside world for a short period by stepping in to a sauna to create a quiet space away from the distractions of day to day life and force yourself to take a break. The relaxing effect of a sauna is therefore felt both physically and mentally. Many sauna users report better quality sleep, which also reduces our stress levels.
3. Faster recovery from intense exercise & enhanced muscle growth
I first heard about the effect of sauna use in reducing DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) when I listened to an interview between Tim Ferriss and Dr Rhonda Patrick PhD. Curious to test it out, I engaged in some seriously heavy weights sessions that I knew would normally leave me feeling like I’d been hit my a truck for a few days. 2 x 20 minute sauna sessions immediately following my workout and I had absolutely NO muscle soreness! I retested this a few weeks later with the same results, so as far as I’m concerned, it’s a winning recipe.
According to Dr Patrick, not only does sauna use assist in the unpleasant after effects of intense exercise, it actually increases muscle growth.
The process of sweating is a normal way for us to flush toxins out via our skin. With many people actually having unhealthy levels of heavy metals and other toxins in our blood due to day to day exposure through our environment, regular sauna use can benefit our body’s ability to eliminate toxins. The act of flushing impurities through the skin also cleans the pores and results in clearer skin and has been used throughout history as a beauty regime for softer, smoother skin.
5. Increased longevity – yep, you read that right!
There’s a well known Finnish research study that shows some pretty compelling data to suggest that regular sauna use can significantly increase longevity. The comprehensive study was conducted over more than 20 years. In a nutshell, participants who used the sauna 2-3 times a week had an all-cause mortality reduction of around 24%. Even more dramatic was the 40% reduction in all-cause mortality for participants who engaged in sauna bathing 4-7 times per week.
Types of Saunas in the Illawarra:
Did you know a sauna isn’t a just a sauna? There are lots of different types of saunas, with different pros and cons. We’re fortunate enough to have numerous types of saunas in the Illawarra area. If you aren’t sure what the difference is between different kinds of saunas, here’s a brief explanation:
Traditional Dry / Steam Sauna:
The most traditional type of sauna, these timber clad rooms contain a heating element which holds some granite rocks. While the sauna will provide a dry heat, the user can increase the temperature of the sauna by creating steam when they add a small amount of water on to the hot rocks. These types of saunas usually cater for several people at a time, which some folk particularly enjoy as they can enjoy the experience with a friend, although others may find it awkward to be in a small enclosed space with a stranger. Traditional saunas generally reach temperatures of around 70 -90°C. Many saunas contain stepped seating options so the user can decide where they are most comfortable during the experience. Since heat rises, sitting higher in the sauna will result in a higher temperature for those who can tolerate it.
Infrared rays are invisible light waves that penetrate the skin and can be categorised in to near, mid and far infrared wavelengths, which can offer different benefits according to how deeply they penetrate the body. Compared to traditional steam saunas, infrared saunas take much less time to warm up before use and generally run at a lower temperature than traditional steam saunas. Their lower temperature does not make them less efficient, because the infrared technology actually allows the heat to penetrate much deeper in to the body that that of radiant heat, so the user can sweat vigorously at a lower temperature (approximately 50°C). The lack of steam means a dry heat and a less humid experience compared to the traditional sauna.
Usually tiles or with a stone finish, steam rooms are extremely humid (often 95% to 100% humidity), air tight rooms that (you guessed it) fill with steam. Many people find breathing the warm moist air deep in to their lungs is therapeutic as well as the benefits gained through excessive sweating. The thickness of the moist air tends to promote longer slower breaths, which can also aid in relaxation and stress relief. There have been studies that show moist heat is actually more effective than dry heat in relieving delayed onset muscle soreness after a workout.
HOCATT Ozone Steam Sauna:
The type of sauna owned by self-help guru, Tony Robbins is a HOCATT Ozone Sauna. The user sits in a comfortable chair and is encapsulated from the head down in a single person chamber. A special oxygen jet is positioned below their nose and mouth to increase the amount of oxygen they breathe in during the treatment. Steam and Far Infrared rays then heat the body inside the chamber and Ozone is pumped in to the chamber to react with the steam. Special microcurrents are also generated to stimulate the hands and feet inside the sauna.
Ozone therapy is used in medicine to treat disease by limiting the impact of viruses and bacteria. It is also used across the world as an alternate therapy to boost immunity and improve a person’s intake and use of oxygen.
So, where can you find saunas in the Illawarra?
There are a number of different types of saunas to suit your needs in the Illawarra area. Here are a few of the local businesses you can try out:
Secret Skin, Shellharbour
From one extreme to another, Secret Skin at Shellharbour offer a sauna service in addition to their cryotherapy tank. The on-site Sunlighten Infrared Sauna offers a nice contrast to their popular Juko CryoSauna. Secret Skin also offer a full range of cosmetic injectables, microchanneling, HydraFacial, urinary incontinence treatments with EMSELLA, body contouring with EMSCULPT NEO, cosmetic mole removal and LED light therapy.
Beaton Park Leisure Centre, Gwynneville
While Beaton Park members can enjoy the sauna as a part of their membership, you can also just purchase sauna visits separately. The traditional timber “hot rock” steam sauna seats around half a dozen people comfortably, but you may well be able to enjoy it all to yourself. This sauna has been operating for decades in the Illawarra and those walls would have plenty of stories to tell!
Definition Fitness, Wollongong
For a private sauna session, Soulfit has a newly installed 2-person infrared sauna. This boutique womens gym offers unlimited sauna access to its’ members for only $10 per week. Alternatively, single sauna sessions are available for purchase or as a 10 visit pass. Sessions are booked online and can be scheduled between 5am – 10pm, 7 days per week.
For a sauna with increased detoxification features, try out the HOCATT sauna at Core Naturopathics. The team at Core is incredibly proud to be able to offer this service and it was the first unit of its kind purchased in Australia. Similar to the VibroSauna, the HOCATT is a single-person unit, so there’s no awkwardness in sharing it with a stranger. The HOCATT system uses both infrared and steam heating to raise the body’s temperature in a safe manner as well as supplying ozone during the treatment to aid in more efficient detoxification. For more information on the HOCATT system, you can click here.
Club Lime, Wollongong
If humidity is your thing, check out the steam room at Club Lime. Members can enjoy the gym’s steam room during reception hours and casual steam room passes can also be purchased by non-members who want to try it out.
Have you tried out any of the Illawarra’s saunas? We’d love to hear your feedback!