There are benefits to steaming, but there are also risks and potential health implications that could hinder your bodybuilding progress. We look at the balance between keeping your steaming habits healthy and avoiding the potential health dangers.
The GoodSteams rooms are very popular and have shown to increase health. Here are a few reasons why:
• Sweating: Toxin ReleaseSweating is great for you. Sweating is the body’s natural way of cooling itself off, but the body also uses its sweat glands to release toxins that are accumulated from foods, liquids, impurities in the air etc. You can sweat up to 30% of these toxins that would otherwise be excreted through urination and defecation. By sweating more, your kidneys and liver have less of a burden to carry regarding toxin release and can therefore spend more time and energy on their other bodily functions. These other bodily functions include hormone control, converting and utilising other chemicals and agents throughout the body, protein synthesis, conversion of carbohydrates, sugars and fats into energy and stress and sleep regulation. Sweating also releases sodium out of the body, decreasing overall sodium levels which help lower overall blood pressure levels.
• Beauty: Better Looking SkinUsing the steam room actually makes you more attractive. People who use the steam room (or sauna) have a particular radiance for around an hour after their sessions, and using steam rooms regularly improve skin health and appearance over the long-term. Using the steam room is also beneficial for people with oily skin because the heat opens up the skin’s pores and allows the extra oils to be released, which will be washed away in the shower afterwards. This leads to cleaner pores with less supressed oils underneath the skin. The steam room is also beneficial to people with dry skin because the opening of the skin’s pores allows oils and lipids to hydrate the skin. Additionally, the steam adds moisture to the skin which provides short-term relief from the constant dryness that people with dry skin suffer.
• Cardio-Like Health BenefitsSitting in the steam room has similar effects and benefits of a cardiovascular workout. Steaming causes the body to heat up more than normal. This causes an increased heart rate and also opens up the airways. This improves both heart and lung health as they are stimulated to work harder for these short periods of time as a response to the heat. By working harder, they adapt by getting stronger and increasing their overall capacity, the same way as cardio makes them stronger.
• Increased Blood CirculationThe heat acts as a vasodilator. This means that the veins and arteries widen because of the heat, allowing more blood to flow through the body and its limbs, muscles, organs, skin, brain etc. The increased heart rate also plays a significant role in increasing blood circulation as the body tries to pump more blood into the extremities (legs and arms, feet and hands) and away from the core in an effort to cool the body down. This is why your legs and arms go red in the heat. They go pale when the body is cold as the body tries to draw blood (and the heat the blood carries, which is vital for bodily functions) away from the extremities back into the core as a survival mechanism. The increased blood circulation induced from using a steam room has many benefits because the body is more able to carry precious nutrients (like oxygen, water, proteins, energy, minerals, etc.) throughout the body to wherever it is needed. It can also carry away waste products like lactic acid and carbon dioxide a lot faster. This speeds up the healing and recovery of wounds, muscles and sickness.
• Opening Up of Pores and VeinsAs discussed earlier, using the steam room opens up the body on many levels, from opening pores on the skin which release oils and toxins, to opening veins and arteries to encourage better nutrient delivery and usage to opening up the lungs and nasal passages to loosen and remove phlegm. Heat and steam is a great way for the body to open up passages that can sometimes get too blocked.
• Improved Immune SystemYour core body temperature increases in the steam room. Many germs and viruses cannot survive the one or two degree increase in body temperature and therefore die off. Because of increase blood circulation, the body’s immune system is also stronger and more adept at killing of bodily invaders, the few that do survive the temperature increase.
• Destress and RelaxationSteaming has a relaxing and de-stressing effect. This is a great way to take a break from the mental stress from work and the physical stress from working out, which can turn out to be quite refreshing for both body and mind. This de-stressing effects help with other ailments that often arise because of stress and the relaxing effects can speed up general recovery and add to general happiness.
• Cleansing, Detoxification and Release of HormonesSteam rooms help the body to clean itself from the inside out. Not only does sweating release toxins; but the increased blood circulation, relaxation effects and increased ability for the kidney and liver organs to perform other functions allows the body to metabolise and deal with hormones like cortisol (the body’s stress hormone), flush out lactic acid build up from physical exertion and get rid acids from foods.
The BadAs healthy as they can be, steam rooms can be dangerous too. Using the steam room can sometimes even counteract the anabolic effects of weight training and slow the body’s ability to recover from exercise. Over-steaming can harm the body and reduce immune function, recovery rate, and normal function. Here are a few reasons why:
• DehydrationSweating is great for you, but too much sweating can actually harm your health. One of the most common reasons (and most preventable) is water. When you sweat, your body loses a lot of water. Dehydration can happen very quickly and can lead to weakness, failure of normal functioning, feinting, hallucinations, death and even worse… decreased muscle mass! It is therefore important to make sure that you drink plenty of fluids whilst using the steam room and don’t stay in for too long. Too much of anything can quickly turn into a bad thing.
• Elevated Heart Rate and Blood PressureAs discussed earlier, using the steam room elevates your heart rate and increases blood pressure temporarily. As much as this can be a beneficial and often a desired effect, it can be dangerous too. For example, people with very high blood pressure or who are at risk for heart attacks or strokes should not use the steam room because this temporary increase might push their heart rates or blood pressure past safe levels. For healthy individuals who don’t have heart or blood pressure problems, this isn’t a risk as long as they don’t stay in for too long.
• OverheatingStaying in the heat for too long can push your body past safe levels of stimulation to dangerous levels that can even lead to death. It is important to make sure that you get out as soon as you start feeling dizzy or start feeling uncomfortable. However, heat is not dangerous when used in moderation. Increased blood circulation from the heat will also lead to greater blood loss from open wounds, which is why people with open wounds should not use the steam room, for both their and others’ health and safety.
• Minerals and ElectrolytesWhen you sweat, you lose salts, minerals and electrolytes that your body needs to function properly. If these minerals are not replaced (or if too much is lost in a short period of time) your body can suffer from mineral or electrolyte deficiencies, which can lead to a variety of negative health effects. TO READ MORE ABOUT MINERALS AND ELECTROLYTES AND THEIR ROLES, SOURCES AND DEFICIENCY SYMPTOMS, CLICK HERE.
• Germs, Viruses and FungiAlthough the increased body temperature kills many common germs within the body, public steam rooms can also be viable breeding grounds for other pathogens which thrive in hot, humid environments. Since many people use these steam rooms daily, it is easy for these pathogens to transmit from one person to the other through the floors, seats, walls and taps. One example of a fungus that is very often transmitted through steam rooms is athlete’s foot. Make sure that the steam room you use is cleaned regularly, that you wear sandals in the steam room and that your skin does not touch surfaces. You can do this by wearing a towel around your waist.
• ChlorineIf the same water is used over and over in the steam rooms, high levels of chlorine can evaporate into the air, which is then inhaled and can cause toxicity in humans. It is always safe to ask gym staff how often the steam room water is replaced with fresh water.
• Rest and Recovery (Too Much Stimuli)Just like exercise places a stress on the body, steam rooms also place stress on the body to cope with heat and then bring the body back to a normal temperature afterwards. Using the steam room too much (especially in conjunction with too much training) to place too much stimulus on the body to deal with more stress than it can handle.
• Drug InteractionsUsing steams rooms with medicines, illegal substances and alcohol can be dangerous. Drug rehabs often use steam rooms to help recovering drug and alcohol addicts detoxify from drugs and substances, but using the steam room whilst under the influence of alcohol, for example, can be dangerous because alcohol dehydrates the body and further dehydration from steaming could drain the body of more fluid than it can cope with. Whenever on medication, make sure that you consult with your doctor before using a steam room to make sure that the medicine you are using won’t have any adverse effects from the steaming. Some substances, for example, are rendered mute (don’t so what they are supposed to) or have counteractive effects because of steaming.
• Should You Steam?It is totally up to you, but steaming from time to time will be beneficial to your health and can actually help you to achieve your goals as it can keep your body detoxed, destressed and running optimally. It can complement muscle building, fat loss and fitness pursuits (by speeding up recovery).
• How Often Should You Steam?It is considered optimal to steam 2-3 times a week. Steaming more often could drain your body of too many essential minerals and electrolytes.
• How Long Should You Steam?Do not steam for longer than 20 minutes, depending on the heat of the steam room. It is not about building up tolerance and resistance to steam rooms like exercise. It is about increasing body temperature to the point where your body sweats. Longer steaming times can place a greater stress and nutrient loss on the body, instead of a stress and toxin release. When starting out, steam for 5 minutes only, then cool off and then another 5 minutes for your body to get used to it, then build up to one 20-minute session only.
• Can You Steam After a Workout?This has been a topic of debate for a long time. Some argue that steaming after a workout is a great way to relax the muscles and body after physical exertion and makes for a great ‘cool-down’ session, flushing out lactic acid, increasing blood blow and nutrient delivery where it is needed. Others argue that physical exercise already increases body temperature and steaming after a workout prolongs recovery and keeps the body out of its anabolic state after exercise because it takes longer to cool down than it would from exercise alone. Try both and see what works best for you.
• At What Other Times can you Steam?Steaming on rest days is a great way to relax and increase blood flow to help with rest and recovery (and is also a great excuse to get into the gym when that’s the only place you want to be on rest days). Some say that steaming before a workout gets the blood flowing and is a great ‘warm-up’ before exercise.
• Make Sure to Shower Before and After Using the Steam RoomThis is very important. This cleans away all the extra dirt that might clog your pores before steaming, and washes off the toxins released after steaming. By showering before and after using the steam room, the risk of germ and fungus transference from one person to another is also reduced.
• Replacing Lost NutrientsDon’t steam too often. Eat enough healthy, balanced foods every day. Many people drink a mineral and electrolyte replacement after steam sessions.
It’s up to you to choose what works best for you. If you enjoy steaming, have fun! If you don’t, it’s ok if you don’t want to steam. STAY STRONG!