A steam room is probably exactly what you think it is. As the name suggests, it refers to a room filled with steam. Although they have been around since the days of ancient Rome, most people are only just now learning of them and their benefits. Mostly they are seen as a way of relaxing and unwinding. However, they can do so much more. Today we discuss the benefits of steam rooms, including their risks and differences with saunas. Take a look!
What Is A Steam Room?
A steam room refers to a heated room with steam generators used for relaxation or to relieve various medical conditions (3).These heated rooms have become very common in gyms as people use them after workouts.
These rooms are also common in spas, offering relaxation and recovery benefits (2). In addition to these places, some people have built steam rooms in their homes. According to WebMD, some people turn their bathrooms into makeshift steam rooms by running a hot shower and filling the room with steam (2).
Steam bathing is an old practice that has been used by many different cultures, such as ancient Greeks and Romans (2). These two cultures used steam bathing and hot springs for health practices. Those health benefits have been available to date, where the practice is used for different benefits, such as steam therapy (2).
Are Steam Rooms And Saunas Similar?
WebMD reveals that the two are similar (2). Perhaps the only difference between the two lies in the temperatures in both rooms. A steam room is where a water-filled generator pumps steam into an enclosed room. Typically, the temperature inside a steam room should be between 110°F and 114°F with a humidity level of 100 percent (3).
On the other hand, a sauna uses dry heat and is much hotter than a steam room. The temperature inside a sauna is kept at around 160 to 220 degrees Fahrenheit (2). That said, both offer time for sitting in the heat as a form of relaxation and recovery.
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Steam Room Benefits
Why roast yourself? Perhaps this is the question most people who have never tried a steam room may be asking themselves. However, there are several health benefits that experts have linked to this old practice. Some of them include:
Lowering Blood Pressure
Evidence suggests that the high temperatures in a steam room dilates or enlarges your blood vessels. As a result, your body transports blood from your core to your skin, and its effect is reduced blood pressure. Commonly the body makes up for this by raising its heart rate (2).
Medical News Today reveals that sitting in a steam room can improve circulation by dilating your capillaries and small blood vessels (1). Consequently, your body easily transports oxygen and blood around the body for proper body functioning.
Improved Skin Health
The next steam room health benefit also is one of the benefits of a sauna, is enhanced skin health. High temperatures in steam rooms and saunas make an individual sweat. As you sweat, your pores open and this helps cleanse the outer skin (1).
The temperatures in these rooms also loosen dirt and debris buildup on your skin, further enhancing your skin appearance (2). However, evidence suggests that only a steam room can help remove toxins trapped below the skin (3).
Being in these heated rooms causes your body to release the feel-good hormones known as endorphins. As a result, you reduce your stress and fatigue sensations (3). Steam rooms also fight stress by decreasing cortisol levels in your body. Cortisol is the hormone released in response to stress (3).
Steam accumulated in these enclosed spaces eases congestion by loosening mucus and phlegm (2). As a result, blowing your nose is easier due to the reduced congestion. This practice is helpful during the allergy season or when you catch a cold or flu (2). Experts suggest putting children in a steam shower instead of using a bowl of steam to clear a cold (2).
Easing Bronchitis Symptoms
Bronchitis refers to the inflammation of the bronchial tube lining that carries air to and from your lungs. Studies show that inhaling the trapped steam in this enclosed space can loosen phlegm and reduce breathing troubles associated with bronchitis (2).
Helping With Workout Recovery
One of the most common side effects of workouts is sore muscles. Luckily, several benefits of the steam room after the workout can counteract this effect. Research shows that moist heat can relieve pain by increasing blood flow to the muscles. Research also suggests that immediate application of moist heat after exercise preserves muscle strength, soothes nerve endings, and reduces muscle damage (3), (2).
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Loosening Stiff Joints
A steam room can also be used before a workout to loosen up stiff joints and increase muscle flexibility, just like a pre-warm-up session (3). Evidence also suggests that steam rooms reduce joint pain (3). The argument is that moist heat dilates blood vessels allowing more blood, oxygen, and nutrients to be delivered to the injured sites. Consequently, that better circulation means loosened joints and muscles and reduced pain (2).
This may come as a surprise and good news for most people trying to lose weight. Research suggests that sitting in these heated rooms can burn calories. The running theory is that your heart rate increases when you are inside a steam room (3).
Generally speaking, you burn more calories per minute when you have a higher heart rate. The effect is more beneficial after a workout. Knowing this, experts recommend this practice after exercising. This increases your heart rate and promotes sweating, stimulating your body and increasing wellness (3).
However, Medical News Today points out that no scientific evidence shows that steam bathing can promote weight loss (3). The argument is that the weight lost in a steam room is water weight (3).
Lost water weight is easily replaced after a steam bath session. With this in mind you are advised not to use this practice as a weight loss technique. Instead, consult with your doctor for insight on more effective practices such as exercise and maintaining a calorie deficit through diet.
Steam Room Risks
Unfortunately, not everyone should use steam rooms. Its high heat has adverse health effects, which is why you must avoid it if you have any of the following conditions (2):
- Heart rhythm problems
- Low blood pressure (Hypotension)
- History of a stroke
- Coronary artery disease
- History of transient ischemic attack (TIA)
Medical News Today also suggests keeping away from steam rooms if you fit any of the descriptions below (3):
- Are pregnant
- Have epilepsy
- Are taking antibiotics
- Are using mind-altering drugs, such as tranquilizers, stimulants, or alcohol
Similarly, when using these rooms, there are some guidelines that experts have put in place for your safety. They include (2):
When most people think of relaxation, they picture themselves with a glass of wine or a beer. Unfortunately, this is unacceptable when using a steam room because the high temperature plus the alcohol can increase your risk of dehydration (2).
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Avoiding Steam Rooms When Sick
You are advised to stay away from steam rooms when sick because the warmth and high temperatures encourages bacteria growth (2). In addition, stay away from public steam rooms, particularly if you have a bacterial skin infection (2).
However, you can use steam rooms to ease congestion when you have a cough or cold. In this case, you are urged to avoid public steam rooms to avoid passing the virus to others (2).
Use Steam Rooms In Moderation
Despite their benefits, you must limit your sessions in steam rooms to 5 to 10 minutes and regulate the temperature (2).
Do Not Substitute Treatment With Steam Therapy
Steam rooms are in no way treatment plans but complementary therapy. Always seek medical attention when you feel sick or if you experience dizziness, breathing difficulties, and chest tightness while in a steam room.
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The Bottom Line
Steam rooms have become very common in gyms and spas. Although most people know them for their relaxation benefits, they also have other health benefits. The benefits of a steam room range from burning calories, easing congestion, reducing blood pressure, improving circulation, reducing stress, to improving skin health.
Steam rooms are also effective before a workout as they loosen stiff joints and after a workout to preserve muscle strength and prevent damage. However, be sure to consult with your doctor before using steam rooms because they are not suitable for individuals with conditions like epilepsy.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Clinical Effects of Regular Dry Sauna Bathing: A Systematic Review (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Health Benefits of Steam Rooms (2021, webmd.com)
- What are the benefits of a steam room (2017, medicalnewstoday.com)