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Hot tub vs. sauna – which is better for different needs?
Hot tub vs. sauna – which is better for different needs?
Written by Kimberly Giraldo
Updated over a week ago

Many people seek wellness through the power of heat — whether in water, such as in a hot tub, or through air, such as in a dry sauna. Hot tubs and saunas both offer relaxation, stress and pain relief and ease of muscle tension through the use of heat. If you’re looking to compare hot tub vs. sauna — which is better for different needs, this article is intended to help you do just that and help you decide which might suit your specific needs and desires.

This article will cover the basics of what a hot tub is, what a sauna is, what each can offer you and the wellness benefits of each. It will also tackle the question, “Which is better for different needs?” Finally, if you’re on the fence about whether a hot tub or a sauna will be right for you, this article also includes some tips to help you narrow down your decision. By the time you finish reading this article, hopefully you will feel informed and confident about your decision when it comes to the “hot tub vs. sauna” comparison. Read on to learn more about how hot tubs use the power of water to provide you with health benefits as well as how saunas use hot air to ultimately do the same.

What is a hot tub?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a hot tub (also referred to as a spa) as “a large tub of hot water in which bathers soak and usually socialize.” While hot tubs are certainly a great place to soak and socialize, there are many additional cited health benefits beyond enjoyment. For example, a study titled “Hot Water and Healthy Living: The Science of Hot Water Immersion: How it Promotes Healthy Bodies, Hearts, Minds and Lifestyles” by Jonathan B. Smith, Ed.D., a professor in the Department of Health and Physical Education at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania in partnership with the National Swimming Pool Foundation® explores the power of warm water immersion and its health benefits — including healing, heart health, relaxation and even mental health.

When it comes to healing specifically, the report states that “water immersion helps in the healing of muscles and/or joint injuries” in the following ways:

-Increases circulation, improves blood flow to muscles

-Water-exerted pressure can reduce swelling such as in the ankles and feet

-Buoyancy of water reduces the amount of weight on our joints, resulting in feeling lighter in water

-Increases joint mobility, reduces joint stiffness and increases flexibility and range of motion

Furthermore, the study explores the benefits of hot water as it relates to heart health, stating: “During immersion, the water exerts pressure on all parts of the body, including the arteries and veins that carry blood throughout the body. The water’s pressure on our legs and arms pushes blood toward the chest cavity, increasing blood flow to the heart by about one third (33 percent). Since more blood is being pushed to our heart, it adjusts by stretching... the heart is working harder and more efficiently, like it does when we exercise. The arteries and veins dilate to carry more blood. Blood moves more easily through the body and circulation may be improved.”

In an article titled “Benefits of Hot Tubs” featured on the Cleveland Clinic’s website, integrative medicine physician Irina Todorov, MD, shares her take on similar heart health benefits of using a hot tub. In the article, she says, “A hot tub doesn’t replace the need for a heart-healthy diet and regular exercise... But using a hot tub in addition to those measures could be beneficial for your heart health.”

She also touts other potential benefits of using a hot tub including lowering your blood pressure by widening your blood vessels; improving your sleep due the muscle-relaxing, mood-boosting effects of hot water; decreasing depression symptoms and helping relieve stress; and managing your muscle aches. Similar to the “Hot Water and Healthy Living” report, Todorov states that “a hot tub soak makes sore, tired muscles feel better because:

•Heat increases blood flow and helps loosen tense muscles.

•Buoyancy (floating) in water takes pressure off joints.

•Immersing your body in water could help prevent muscle damage from exercise.”

She also notes that hot water “is a good alternative to over-the-counter pain relievers for mild to moderate muscle pain.” These are all wonderful benefits, but it’s important to note some safety tips for hot tub use.

What is the ideal temperature of a hot tub?

While there is plenty of research supporting the fact that hot water is healing for the body, physically and mentally, it is also important to use a hot tub safely. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission states hot tub water temperatures should never exceed 104 degrees Fahrenheit. The source adds: “A temperature of 100 degrees is considered safe for a healthy adult.”

What is a sauna?

The Oxford Languages website defines a sauna as “a small room used as a hot-air or steam bath for cleaning and refreshing the body.” Sauna use is an activity used in Finnish tradition for thousands of years, mainly for the purposes of pleasure and relaxation. However, the Mayo Clinic Proceedings website states, “Emerging evidence suggests that beyond its use for pleasure, sauna bathing may be linked to several health benefits, which include reduction in the risk of vascular diseases such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and neurocognitive diseases; nonvascular conditions such as pulmonary disease; mortality; as well as amelioration of conditions such as arthritis, headache, and flu.”

An article titled “Benefits of sauna bathing for heart health” on the UCLA Health website further supports the positive effects of sauna use on the heart. The article states: “Sitting in a sauna may be particularly good for your heart. The heat can raise your skin temperature and cause heavy sweating—just a short time in the sauna can produce a pint of sweat. As your body attempts to keep cool, your heart rate increases and may reach 100-150 beats per minute.”

With the increase in heart rate, bathing in a sauna causes blood vessels to open, which increases circulation and reduces stress levels — like the effects of low or moderate exercise. The article lists additional benefits including:

-Positive effect on blood pressure

-Ability to lower total blood cholesterol, which can decrease risk of heart disease

-Improved cardiovascular respiratory fitness level, which can also decease risk of heart disease and death

-Lowered risk of heart disease

Like regular soaks in a hot tub, routine sauna use has also been shown to decrease stress relief. In the article “Surprising Benefits of Sauna Therapy” on the U.S. News & World Report website, in addition to benefits similarly stated in other reports previously mentioned in this article including pain relief, improved cardiovascular health, decreased blood pressure and general relaxation, regular use of a sauna can help lower stress levels.

The article states, “Feeling more relaxed contributes to a healthier body and mind, and you may just feel your stress melt away.” Expert Shawn M. Houck, a physical therapist with Physical Therapy Central in Yukon, Oklahoma, is cited in the article. According to Houck, “Plus, sitting in a quiet, calm environment can help provide a pause when you have whirlwind days.”

Article author Vanessa Caceres adds: “Researchers continue to study the potential for sauna use to help decrease the incidence of colds, fight off depression and potentially even prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.”

Another potential perk of sauna sessions is weight loss. However, this can likely be attributed to sweat and water loss. The article quotes Jayesh Tawase, a physical therapist and clinical director of special projects and outpatient Theradynamics in New York as saying: “It’s not a long-term or sustainable weight-loss method, but it can definitely be used in adjunct to your diet and exercise routine.”

What is the ideal temperature of a sauna?

According to the North American Sauna Society, there are four different types of saunas — traditional Finnish sauna, dry sauna, steam bath/steam sauna/Turkish bath and infrared room/health therapy room/infrared sauna. The ideal temperature for each varies. For example, the site states: “In order to guarantee the relaxing effects of a [traditional wood-lined Finnish] sauna, the temperature must be at least 150 degrees Fahrenheit, measured where sauna bathers sit.” In a steam bath on the other hand, temperature is controlled by a thermostat and typically less than 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The typical temperature of an infrared/heat therapy room ranges between 120-140 degrees Fahrenheit.

Hot tub vs. sauna — which is better for different needs?

When it comes to heart health, both hot tubs and saunas have similar benefits, according to an article titled, “Hot baths and saunas: Beneficial for your heart?” on Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Publishing website. The article states, “Done on a regular basis, both habits may also prevent heart attacks and strokes, according to several studies.”

In the article, Dr. Adolph Hutter, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, states: “The high temperatures in a warm tub or sauna cause your blood vessels to dilate, which lowers blood pressure. The volume of blood your heart pumps will also rise, especially in a hot tub. That’s a result of the pressure of the water on the body, which increases the heart’s workload.”

The article goes on to state that while both saunas and hot baths (or hot tubs) seem to be safe for people with stable heart disease and even mild heart failure, people with unstable chest pain (angina), poorly controlled high blood pressure, or other serious heart issues should avoid them.

Both hot tubs and saunas have similar wellness benefits as listed above — including pain relief, stress relief, lower blood pressure, decreased risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular improvements. Ultimately, when it comes to the question: “Hot tub vs. sauna — which is better for different needs?”, the answer is largely subjective.

While water specifically offers buoyancy, which can take pressure off the joints, and sauna usage may offer a slight weight-loss component, the effects of hot tub and sauna usage are pretty equal. When you are comparing hot tub vs. sauna, you might ask yourself which one you prefer. Or better yet, enjoy a double dose of those heat-propelled wellness benefits by enjoying both hot tub soaks and sauna sessions on a regular basis.

You might be surprised to discover that while the Jacuzzi® brand is most widely known as a luxury hot tub company, it also manufactures saunas for home use. In fact, both their hot tub collections and saunas feature some of the most beneficial and cutting-edge heat-centric therapies, including the use of Infrared and Red Light therapy. Jacuzzi® Infrared Saunas feature two different types of heaters to provide a comprehensive Infrared Therapy session. Jacuzzi® Infrared Saunas combine mica/carbon heaters that surround the sides and the back of the sauna which provide low EMF far infrared wavelengths with front-facing heaters that provide full-spectrum (near, mid and far) Infrared to deliver a comprehensive sauna session.

Developing hot tubs since the late 1960s, the Jacuzzi® company recently took the Infrared technology it had been using in its saunas and combined it with Red Light therapy in its new J-LX® Collection of hot tubs. With two distinct choices — the J-LX® model with open seating and the J-LXL® model, which features a lounger — the J-LX® Collection combines relaxation and rejuvenation through these technologies. Staying ahead of the curve when it comes to groundbreaking approaches to wellness, the Jacuzzi® brand is the first to bring its patent-pending Infrared and Red Light therapy to an underwater application through its latest family of hot tubs, the J-LX® Collection.

The first and only-of-its-kind patent-pending technology of Infrared and Red Light therapy in a hot tub, this type of soak allows you to rejuvenate your body while also relaxing. Featuring the FX-IR Therapy Seat, which combines full-back and neck hydromassage with Infrared and Red Light Therapy on your lower back, the Jacuzzi® J-LX® models deliver the most advanced hydrotherapy yet. This clinically proven technology makes wellness easy, effortless, and most importantly, safe.

Ultimately, when you are comparing a hot tub versus a sauna, you may want to ask yourself specifically what you intend to get out of the experience. Since the proven health benefits are quite similar for both, the choice can simply come down to preference. Naturally, heat is a common factor of both a hot tub and a sauna. However, you may feel more comfortable in hot bubbly water rather than a hot room — or vice versa. Another point to consider: Hot tubs tend to evoke socialization while getting your hydrotherapy. On the other hand, a sauna lends itself to more of a solo or quiet scenario (though depending on the size, a sauna room can also be a social setting).

Due to the fact that the health benefits are similar, taking into consideration some of the differences between a hot tub and a sauna can help you determine which one might be best suited for your needs. As noted above, a hot tub offers the buoyancy of hot bubbly water with the addition of seating options and specialized jets that deliver hydromassage. A traditional Finnish sauna is typically a wood-lined room that is heated with an electric or wood-burning stove topped with rocks. Water can be poured over the hot rocks to create a steam experience.

If you’re looking to connect with nature as you unwind, a hot tub placed outdoors allows you to view your surroundings during a soak, while your view within a sauna is simply the interior of the unit itself. However, this enclosed sanctuary can provide some peaceful solitude, void of outside distractions.

Space may also be a determining factor. The area you have to dedicated to your future hot tub or sauna can also help you decide which one is right for you. You will also want to consider budget — including initial cost, installation and operating costs as well as routine maintenance (plus supply and repair costs).

As you weigh the comparison of hot tub vs. sauna, which is better for different needs, simply determining your personal preferences can help you make a clear decision. Making a list of desires and what you hope to gain from your hot tub or sauna can help you narrow down your choice. It’s also a good idea to visit a credible hot tub dealer and or sauna showroom to see the various models in person. This way, you can get a better feel for size, seating and jet options (specifically for a hot tub) and features of each that may help sway your decision one way or the other.

Whether you decide on a hot tub or a sauna, it’s important to always consider quality. Look for a manufacturer and/or dealer that has been in business for some time and that has a respected reputation. While cost may be higher initially, you can’t put a price on the peace of mind of working with a credible dealer and a premium brand that is known for fine craftsmanship and quality products.

If you’re looking specifically for a Jacuzzi® product, a visit to your local dealer is an excellent way to familiarize yourself with the various models; to see, touch and even experience the products themselves; and to speak with a reputable dealer who can help you answer any further questions you may have.

Looking for a Jacuzzi® dealer in your area? Click here to find a dealer near you.

Disclaimer: All information, including pricing and product details, was accurate at the time of writing and may change without notice.

Medical disclaimer: This information is not intended to prescribe a particular diagnosis or course of action. We are not medical professionals. Please contact your GP or other medical professional for advice if you have any concerns about your current health or well-being.

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