You’ve just finished an exhausting workout and are ready for a little relaxation. What better way to relax than to sit in a steam room? If you have access to one, it’s a smart move for your health.
Who doesn’t enjoy the idea of warm, humidified air caressing their body? But let’s look beyond the feel-good factor to what steam room bathing can do for your health and well-being. What you might not know is steam rooms have been around since ancient times and research suggests they have health benefits.
Don’t have a steam room in your home? You can find instructions online for converting an existing bathroom into a mini-steam room.
The Difference Between Steam Rooms and Saunas
Many people confuse a sauna and a steam room, but they are different. For both, you sit in an enclosed room, but a sauna exposes your body to dry heat while a steam room produces warm, humidified air. In fact, the humidity of a steam room is almost 100%, with temperatures that range from 110 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Like saunas, basking in a steam room has potential health benefits, and some people prefer the higher humidity over the dry heat that a sauna offers. Let’s look at some benefits.
Mental Health Benefits
In a steam room, you can relax, breathe deeply, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and clear your mind. Some people say they feel the stress melt away as soon as they step into the warm, steamy environment that a steam room offers. Some studies even suggest that sitting in a steam room boosts the release of endorphins, natural chemicals that relieve pain and increase calmness. These are the same chemicals that scientists believe are responsible for the runner’s high. Therefore, sitting in a steam room helps relieve stress. That’s a benefit most people can use!
Eases Joint Pain
A steam room session is beneficial for relaxing tired muscles after a workout, but they’re also good for your joints. If you have stiff, achy joints due to arthritis or tight muscles, ten or fifteen minutes in a steam room can ease the tightness and help your muscles relax. Don’t be surprised if you feel more mobile when you step out. The warm, moist heat boosts circulation and boosts the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to your joints for better joint health. According to research, the warmth of a steam room may also improve symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. In fact, some studies show heat is more effective for easing fibromyalgia symptoms than physical therapy.
Clear Your Sinuses
Warm, humidified air is an ideal therapy for clogged sinuses, as the heat opens up clogged sinuses and nasal passages. In fact, the steam room beats the dry heat of a sauna for nasal and sinus stuffiness. If your mom ran a humidifier for you when you had a cold as a child, a steam room offers similar benefits. Moist mucous membranes also help ward off viruses that cause colds and upper respiratory infections, since it’s hard for viruses to attach to moist mucous membranes. Some people with asthma also benefit from sitting in steam room but the results are variable. Some experience a worsening of chest tightness when they sit in a humidified steam room. Take it slowly if you have asthma and see how your symptoms respond.
After a tough workout, stepping into a steam room is a welcome relief. Plus, the heat helps relax the muscles you just worked. Be sure to drink enough water before and after a steam room session, especially if you just exercised. You can lose a significant amount of body fluid through sweating brought on by exercise and being in a steam room can lead to further water loss. Keep a stainless-steel bottle of water nearby to sip on while your body relaxes in the steamy environment.
Blood Pressure Response
Some sources say that steam rooms and saunas reduce blood pressure. One study published in Cardiovascular Business found that sitting in a sauna affects blood pressure the same way exercise does. Your blood pressure rises while you’re in the sauna and drops afterward, and the same happens after a workout. Research also shows that sitting in a sauna has similar cardiovascular benefits to a moderate-intensity exercise session. Although the study looked at saunas, a steam room should have similar benefits.
Myths about a Steam Room
Some sources say that sitting in a steam room helps your body detoxify, but there’s no actual evidence of this. You sweat in a steam room, but you lose mostly fluids and electrolytes rather than toxins — but don’t sweat it! Your liver and kidneys are the best organs for detoxifying. The skin plays a lesser role in eliminating toxins.
Another myth is that sitting in a steam room helps with weight loss. You may lose a small amount of weight after a steam room session, but the drop in body weight comes from fluid loss due to sweating rather than fat loss. It’s a good idea to weigh yourself before and after an exercise or steam room session to see how much fluid you lost. Drink 16 to 24 ounces of water for every pound you’re down.
The Bottom Line
Steam rooms offer mental and physical health benefits. Plus, sitting in one is a way to take a break, close your eyes, and “reboot.” Despite their benefits, talk to your health care provider before sitting in a steam room or sauna if you have a history of hypertension, heart disease, or other health problems. Make sure you’re well-hydrated beforehand, especially if you head to a steam room after a workout.
- Altern Ther Health Med. 2007 Mar-Apr;13(2):S154-6.
- Medical News Today. “What are the benefits of a steam room?”
- Med Sci Monit. 2012; 18(7): CR415-CR424.Published online 2012 Jul 1. doi: 10.12659/MSM.883209.
- CardiovascularBusiness.com. “Sauna Visits Affect BP, Heart Rate Like Moderate Exercise”
- HealthRising.org. “Can Heat Therapy Reduce Fibromyalgia Pain?”