Saunas or Hot Tubs – What’s the Healthier Choice?

Few people would dispute that home saunas and hot tubs can effectively assist an individual’s efforts to relax, but recently released information may lead some health-conscious bathers to opt for a soothing session in the sauna over a dip in the hot tub.

A new study has revealed that whirlpool baths can be a breeding ground for a host of disease-causing bacteria. A Texas A&M University microbiologist tested 43 water samples from both private and public whirlpool bathtubs. In 95 percent of the hot tubs, bacteria derived from feces were present, while 81 percent had fungi and 34 percent contained potentially deadly staphylococcus bacteria.

In announcing her findings, Dr. Rita Moyes explained that a teaspoon of normal tap water contains about 138 bacteria and many samples are bacteria-free. A teaspoon of whirlpool tub water, however, contains an average of more than two million bacteria. The interior pipes of whirlpool baths that are not filtered or chemically treated, and non-maintained hot tubs, are prime areas for potentially infectious microbes to congregate and grow, Moyes reported. When the jets are turned on, the bacteria-packed water gets blown into the tub.

The bacteria found in whirlpool baths can lead to a number of diseases, including urinary tract infections, skin infections and pneumonia.

While not addressed in the microbiologist’s study, home saunas continue to be cited for the many health benefits associated with their use. A German study, for example, reportedly found that people who bathed in a sauna twice a week got half as many colds as those who didn’t. A study of men in Japan found that daily sauna use reduced the thickness of blood vessel walls by 40 percent.

Additionally, some studies have suggested that regular sauna bathing may lower the blood pressure in people with hypertension, improve lung function in people with obstructive pulmonary disease, alleviate pain in people suffering from rheumatic disease, and help people with diabetes and high cholesterol.

Other reliable data indicates that proper sauna use can help increase cardiovascular activity, accelerate the body’s metabolism and healing functions, trigger endorphins, stimulate vital organs and glands, and promote positive changes in mood and sleep quality.

Based on just this small sampling of the extensive information that exists on home saunas and hot tubs, it appears that sauna enthusiasts have good reason to be enthusiastic while hot tub lovers have valid cause for concern.