In ancient times, Romans and Turks used natural hot springs from beneath the ground to create steam rooms. Roman and Turkish steam baths served important community and social functions, but were also intended to induce sweating and improve health. Today, steam rooms can be found at recreational facilities and spas across the country. They are less central to the social fabric of modern life, but the health benefits recognized thousands of years ago still apply, as long as you use the steam room in a safe and healthy way.
Steam rooms provide moist heat, generated from steam pumped into an enclosed room. Typically, the temperature ranges from 110 to 114 degrees Fahrenheit, and the humidity is 100 percent. Many resorts now offer steam showers in guests’ rooms. Steam showers are enclosed showers equipped with steam vents that allow the shower to function as a steam room.
The notion behind the use of steam rooms is that sweating is good for you. Sweating opens your pores, removes salts from your system and helps to cleanse the outer skin. Steam rooms help you relax. When you sit in the hot, steamy room, your blood vessels dilate, and your pulse and blood pressure both go down. There is no reliable scientific evidence to suggest that steam rooms assist with weight loss.
Before You Steam
If you are using a public steam room, shower before and after each steam bath. If you worked out before your steam bath, take at least a 5- to 10-minute cooldown before heading into the steam room. Drink plenty of water so you are well hydrated before exposing yourself to the heat of the steam room. Don’t drink alcohol before using a steam bath, as it causes dilation of your blood vessels, an effect that is already created by the steam bath. Those who are vulnerable may experience too much of a drop in blood pressure.
How long you stay in the steam room is something of a personal matter. Listen to your body. If at any point you feel uncomfortable, you should leave the steam room immediately. The very first time, you should limit your time to a few minutes. Leave the steam room, cool down and monitor how you feel. Spavelous.com recommends you take a cool shower afterward, but do not expose yourself to extreme changes in temperature. If you feel OK, then head back in if you wish for another 5 to 10 minutes. Do not exceed 20 to 30 minutes at a time. Take breaks any time you feel like it.
After the Steam
Towel yourself off, put on a robe so you don’t get chilled and relax for 5 to 10 minutes to allow your body to return to normal temperature. Shower before dressing.
Some websites, such as Spavelous, suggest that a person in good health can take steam baths as many as three times a week for 20 minutes at a time, while other websites, such as Cankar.org, say a healthy person can steam-bathe as often as he feels comfortable.
If you have concerns or if you have health problems, including heart disease, high or low blood pressure, diabetes, respiratory problems, circulatory problems, epilepsy, seizures or if you are pregnant, consult your doctor before using a steam room.
Jon Williams is a clinical psychologist and freelance writer. He has performed, presented and published research on a variety of psychological and physical health issues.