I have loved the feeling of using saunas for many years, but have never indulged in sauna regularly and instead treated myself at holiday resorts. Having always viewed it as simply a relaxation tool, I recently stumbled across a few articles about all of the health benefits of sauna use and decided to do some further research. I also started searching for saunas in the Illawarra area and found a number of great local businesses with a range of services to choose from.

What are the benefits of Sauna use?

Believed to have originated in Finland, saunas, steam rooms and hyperthermia therapy has been used by generations of people around the world, for a variety of health reasons.

The main benefits of saunas are:

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). Even the simplicity of shutting off from the outside world for a short period by stepping in to a sauna creates a quiet space away from the distractions of day to day life and forces us 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.

4. Detox

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.

Types of Sauna therapy in the Illawarra:

We are fortunate enough to have numerous types of saunas available for use in the Illawarra area. If you aren’t sure what the difference is between the 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 65°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 Sauna:

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.

Steam Rooms:

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.

VibroSauna:

These single person units encapsulate the user in a lying down position with their head exposed and combine a dry heat therapy with a vibrating bed. The combination of the heat and vibration is designed to assist in increased circulation, muscle relaxation and detoxification.

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 breath 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:

Cryo Health & Fitness Shellharbour

From one extreme to another, Cryo Health & Fitness at Shellharbour offer a sauna service in addition to their cryotherapy tank. The unique Vibro Sauna is a little different to a traditional sauna as it is a single person unit than encapsulates your body, leaving your head exposed. Situated in a private room, it is perfect for those who don’t like the idea of sharing a sauna with a stranger. The vibration bed is an added feature to enhance the muscle relaxation effects of the sauna and both the vibration level and temperature can be adjusted by the user. A session is usually 60 minutes and the user can bring their own music or podcast along to pass the time.

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.

Bath N Body Delights, Oak Flats

The team at Bath N Body Delights have an infrared sauna available to book for 30 minute sessions by appointment. Be sure to check out their great range of essential oils, salts and candles while you are there.

Core Naturopathics, Corrimal

For a sauna with increased detoxification features, try out the HOCATT sauna at Core Naturopathics. The team at Core are incredible 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.

Revive Infrared Sauna Therapy, North Wollongong

Revive is one of the Illawarra’s newest sauna therapy locations. Their two person Far Infrared Sauna is available to book for 30 minute sessions at North Wollongong. For more information, you can find Revive Infrared Sauna Therapy on both Facebook and Instagram.

Club Lime, Wollongong

If humidity is your thing, check out the steam room at Club Lime. Member 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!