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The benefits of steam are remarkably similar to the benefits of a sauna, which isn’t surprising, since a steam room and a sauna room are both hot, wet rooms you sit in for therapeutic benefits.
In case you wondered, a steam room is filled with moist heat, while a sauna uses dry heat. That’s key to the benefits of steam. Saunas tend to be warmer than steam rooms. Steam rooms are heated with boiling water, while saunas use a stove to heat rocks. That said, the key to the strong health benefits of steam is steam’s high humidity, which is not found in a sauna, explains Healthline.com.
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5 Benefits of Steam
Among the strongest scientifically verified benefits of steam are:
- Pain relief: One of the benefits of steam—moist heat—is its ability to penetrate muscles, says SpineHealth.com. Moist heat provides better pain relief than dry heat. It helps to relax stiff joints and muscles, making steam can be a good post workout ritual.
- Great-looking skin: Steam opens your skin pores and increases subcutaneous blood flow, which makes your skin radiant, soft, and smooth.
- Relaxation: Most people relax in a sauna or steam room, because heat is calming. A steam room can help relieve stress, as it penetrates your muscles and the soothing warmth surrounds you.
- Weight loss: According to Care2.com, one of the benefits of steam is that it can increase your metabolism and help with weight loss. As you sweat, you lose water, and the increased metabolism burns more calories.
- Cardiovascular health: Several studies have shown that a sauna/steam room can help your circulation and reduce blood pressure.
The myth that a steam room can remove toxins from your body is one of the most widely believed benefits of steam. However, no scientific research supports this belief. Furthermore, it is physiologically impossible for the body to release toxins through sweat, says Benjamin Radford, M.Ed., on LiveScience.com. Organs, like the liver, gather toxins in the body for expulsion.
Disadvantages of Steam
Not everything’s rosy when you consider the benefits of steam. In fact, a steam room can be deadly, usually due to the very real risk of dehydration (never drink alcohol and use a steam room). In 2010, self-help guru James Arthur Ray was convicted for the 2009 deaths of three people in a steam-room self-improvement program. Eighteen other participants became ill. The room became too hot, and people began to get sick.
According to the New York Daily News, a 77-year-old woman died in a steam room in Denver in 2015 due to dehydration that led to kidney failure.
In 2010, a man participating in the Sauna World Championships in Finland—an annual contest to see who can stay in a “hot, sweltering” sauna the longest (we kid you not)—died due to spending six minutes in a grossly overheated sauna. Another contestant suffered serious burns.
However, these deaths appear related to staying too long. Plan to spend no more than 15 to 20 minutes in a steam room, due to the risk of dehydration. If you’re not used to it or are new to the game, start with an absolute maximum of 10 minutes.
More Steam Worries
Most commonly, the benefits of steam can be trumped by the growth of bacteria and fungus in a steam room. These organisms can get into the wood in the room and are often found on the floor and walls as well. It’s important to use towels, sandals, and good hygiene.
Medical News Today reports that people with these conditions should stay away from steam rooms due to the high heat:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- On antibiotics
- Pregnancy women
- Users of mind-altering drugs, such as stimulants, tranquilizers, or alcohol
- Very low blood pressure
Always discuss the use of a steam room with your physician, but this is especially important if you are battling any illness, whether acute or chronic.
STEAMING FOR STUFFY NOSES
There’s no arguing that the benefits of steam include reducing or clearing congestion, whether in your sinuses or chest. It warms the mucous membranes and loosens congestion and stuffy noses. Few things are so simple yet so effective.
Pediatricians often suggest to new parents that a great way to relieve baby’s congestion is to run a hot shower for a few minutes, then bring the baby into the steamy room and sit with him for 10 to 15 minutes. Healthline.com says an older study showed that children who used steam to help relieve congestion recovered more quickly from respiratory infections than children who did not use steam therapy. Note: If you or your child have a fever, discuss the use of steam with your physician before using it.
For adults, Shape.com suggests that you can “intensify the benefits with the addition of eucalyptus oil, a natural decongestant. Whatever you use, slowly breathe in the steam for about five minutes and then try blowing your nose and/or coughing. This is usually enough time to break up and loosen the mucus in the body.”
You can make a eucalyptus steam bath or shower by “adding two to three drops of the essential oil to your bath just before getting in. If you’re taking a shower, you would place two to three drops of the essential oil onto a wet washcloth. When the warm water of the shower heats the washcloth, the vaporized oil is released,” says Verywell.com.