Friday, February 10, 2012

Are steams rooms healthy?

Yesterday evening, I actually went to the gym. In fact, I’ve been to the gym quite a few times this week. This is totally not the norm for me because I usually prefer to work out at home.

While at the gym, I found something new – a steam room. Obviously, it’s not new to the gym itself, but since I’m such an infrequent gym-goer, I just never realized it was there!

So after a hard workout, I thought that the steam room sounded pretty fantastic. But at the same time, I was kind of freaked out.


Let me give you a little run down of my first experience in the steam room.

I open the door expecting to see wooden benches (like a sauna), but instead the room is lined with white plastic chairs connected to the wall.

The air is so thick that it almost feels like I can’t breath. Of course I can breath – but it feels different. The air feels extremely wet and taking a deep breath is nearly impossible.

Upon looking at the wall thermometer, I realized that the room is nearly 120 degrees Fahrenheit. What? Can that be healthy? Am I going to give myself heat stroke? Clearly, I’m being rational here.

At this point, I’m pretty much drenched in sweat/moisture from the air. Despite the fact that I’m a little off put by the steam, I’m beginning to like it. In fact, I’m starting to relax.

Yep. That’s what was running through my head while sitting in the steam room trying to relax. Clearly, I suck at relaxing. But that’s not the topic here, eh? 

So curious minds (mine) must know – are steam rooms healthy? What are the benefits and/or risks? How long is too long to sit in a 120 degree steam room?

steam rooms

Pin It

After doing a little online research, I think I found the answers to my questions, plus some.

Are steam rooms beneficial to our health?

According to this site, detoxification is one of the benefits of steam rooms. Although not backed by medical science, many claim that steam rooms help to cleanse the outer layer of skin.

“As the body begins to sweat, perspiration forces dirt, debris and dead skin cells out of the pores onto the surface of the skin. Once eliminated from the pores, debris can be easily washed away.” (source)

Steam rooms are also said to help increase circulation and thus, promote cardiovascular tone. But there is a downside to this—those that have pre-existing heart conditions should avoid the steam rooms. So the benefit is only seen in otherwise healthy individuals.

Other possible benefits:

  • decreased stress
  • decreased muscle stiffness
  • cleared sinuses
  • possibly help clear up acne by decongesting your pores

How can you possibly sit in a 120 degree room? It just sounds wrong, no?

Of course, if we were exposed to temperatures that high under normal circumstances, they’d be intolerable. I mean, during the summers, we have excessive heat warnings when temperatures near 100 degrees F.

However, steam rooms are able to overcome this issue by using humidity.

Are there risks associated with steam rooms?

Among one of the most common is dehydration. Since being in such excessive, moist heat causes you to sweat – then it makes sense that that if you’re not well-hydrated, you can get dehydrated.

Of course, sweating it out in a room full of strangers definitely comes with the risk of spreading or acquiring germs as well.

So while I may have thought I was being irrational when thinking about heat stroke—this is actually a possibility.

“A steam room can cause nonexertional heat stroke, in which the high temperature and humidity make the body temperature rise. If left untreated, heat stroke can damage the heart, kidneys and brain. Symptoms include headache, disorientation, fatigue, dizziness, high body temperature, rapid heartbeat, hallucinations, seizure and loss of consciousness.” Source.

Pretty scary, right?

What’s the difference between steam rooms and saunas? I’ll be honest – I thought they were one in the same!

Steam rooms use wet heat with humidity, whereas saunas use dry heat. Steam rooms often have over 100% humidity – which is why it can be difficult to see.

steam room tips Pin It

  • drink plenty of water both before and after to avoid dehydration
  • limit your time in the steam room – no longer than 15-20 minutes
  • if you have any pre-existing heart conditions, avoid the steam room altogether
  • wear flip flops to avoid picking up bacteria
  • as always, listen to your body! If you feel light-headed or ill – leave the room immediately and grab some cold water.

Other interesting (and possibly random) facts.

In Finland, there is old saying that goes: “If booze, tar, or the sauna won't help, the illness is fatal." Interesting.

“In Finnish and Latvian sauna culture, a beer afterwards is thought to be refreshing and relaxing.”

Maybe I should have rehydrated with a brew?

So what’s the bottom line – are steam rooms healthy? Are they worthwhile?

Well, it’s important to remember that while steam rooms claim to detox our bodies, we actually already have many systems in place to do just that. If you are healthy, then your body is probably doing a pretty great job of detoxing itself already.

The human body is pretty amazing and our livers, kidneys, and GI tracts are constantly working to eliminate toxins and keep our insides healthy.

All too often, we focus on the outside. We want to slim our thighs, trim our tummies, and lose that extra weight. But take a minute to appreciate your body from the INSIDE out. Seriously, it’s pretty amazing.

So overall – the biggest and most pervasive benefit of a steam room is RELAXATION. Since I suck at relaxing, I should probably utilize the steam room a bit more, eh?

Anything to add? Tips, experiences, general thoughts?

Tomorrow is Sweat it Out Saturday – I’d love for you to link up if you have a fitness-related post!

Also, go check out my girl Meg! She’s hosting High Five Friday today – basically you give yourself a high five for something you accomplished this week. Big or small. Great idea, right?


I give myself a high five for making it to the gym this week!

<3 Stefanie

(References: Dr. Weil, Wikipedia, LiveStrong)


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