A post-exercise steam room session can be relaxing, but it probably won't have any effect on shedding pounds. There's no scientific research that shows a connection between the steam room and weight loss. However, spending time in the steam room could have a positive effect on sore muscles.
There is no evidence that steam rooms can help you lose weight or body fat.
Steam Room Benefits
Steam rooms are heated to between 110 and 114 degrees Fahrenheit and have a 100 percent humidity level that's caused by a water-filled generator that pumps steam into the enclosed room, according to Columbia University. This type of moist heat won't help you lose weight directly, but it can have a beneficial impact on your muscles after a workout.
According to a study published in December 2013 in the Journal of Clinical Medicine Research, applying moist heat to muscles after a workout can have a positive effect on delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), a condition that develops after workout that taxes your muscles. It's caused by microscopic tears in the muscle fibers during exercise, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. Moist heat, like that experienced when sitting in a steam room, can decrease the pain caused by DOMS, you can get back to working out more quickly — and that could have a positive effect on weight loss if consistent exercise is part of your weight loss journey.
Read more: How to Ease Muscle Soreness After a Workout
Steam Room Myths
There's some misinformation out there when it comes to other benefits of steam rooms. For example, there's a myth that the sweat caused by sitting in a steam room can release toxins from your body, but according to Columbia University, there's no scientific evidence to support this. There's no evidence that "sweating out toxins" can have an effect on weight loss, either.
Sweat is 99 percent water, says Oschner Health. While there might be some chemicals or heavy metals excreted in the sweat, it doesn't make much of a difference — your kidneys and liver are the organs that "detox" your body. Therefore, you don't have to do anything special, such as sit in a steam room, to detoxify your body.
If you notice a drop on the scale immediately after a steam room or sauna, don't get too excited. According to the Mayo Clinic, that steam room weight loss is likely just lost water weight. The University of Miami says that the pounds lost on the scale are likely the water you just sweated out of your body. If you drink a glass of water and rehydrate properly, the weight will likely come back on, which is appropriate.
That doesn't mean that there aren't benefits to sweating in a steam room, but none of them are related to steam room weight loss. Sweating increases blood circulation, which allows oxygen and nutrients to circulate and nourish your skin's cells, says Piedmont Healthcare. This can lead to glowing skin. However, this happens anytime you sweat, not just when you're sitting in a steam room.
Sauna vs. Steam Room
"Sauna" and "steam room" are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are two separate things. While steam rooms provide moist heat, saunas are hotter and dryer. According to Columbia University, a sauna's temperature typically ranges between 160 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit and has just 5 percent to 30 percent humidity. Unfortunately, saunas don't provide any weight loss benefits either, says Columbia University.
However, saunas do have some benefits that are different than those of steam rooms, just not related to weight loss. Research published in August 2018 in Mayo Clinic Proceedings says that there is emerging evidence that sauna bathing has several health benefits, including reducing the risk of diseases such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and neurocognitive diseases. It also may have an effect on pulmonary diseases and conditions such as arthritis.
Safety in Steam Rooms
Steam rooms might be a great place to relax after a hard workout, but be aware of a few safety issues that can be present. First, Columbia University says to limit your time in the steam room to 15 to 20 minutes the first few times you try it out. Additionally, wear a towel and shower shoes or flip-flops in the steam room, as the heat and moisture create an ideal breeding ground for microbes that can cause infections. Be aware of the risk of dehydration while in the steam room or the sauna — heat increases the risk of dehydration due to sweating, according to Edward-Elmhurst Health.
Finally, if you are pregnant, have heart disease or have very low blood pressure, you should avoid using a steam room. Other people who should skip the steam room or sauna include people with epilepsy, those who are taking antibiotics and anyone who has used a mind-altering drug, such as alcohol, Columbia University states.
How to Lose Weight
There's no evidence for steam room weight loss, but don't fret — there are other methods you can use to shed pounds. The best strategy to lose weight is to combine smart eating habits with increased physical activity, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
Start by setting a realistic goal so you have something attainable to work toward — the AHA recommends something like, "I will lose 3 percent to 5 percent of my body weight." The Mayo Clinic recommends aiming for losing 1 to 2 pounds per week, which requires you to burn 500 to 1,000 calories more than you consume each day. This can be done by cutting calories via your diet and burning calories through exercise.
The next step is to start tracking how much food you eat so you know if you're taking in too many calories. This also helps you figure out your eating habits. You can cut back on the calories you consume by managing your portion sizes. Consuming extra-large portions is one of the easiest ways to overeat, and smaller portions can help keep your calories in check.
When trying to lose weight, it's also important to increase your physical activity, which helps you burn off extra calories. The Mayo Clinic states that one of the best ways to burn calories is with steady aerobic exercise, like biking, walking or jogging, that you do for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
However, it's important to note that exercise alone without cutting calories through your diet is less likely to help you lose weight, according to the Cleveland Clinic. However, it could be key in maintaining that weight loss after the fact. A study published in September 2019 in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that weight loss tactics should be focused on reducing energy intake — that is, reducing calorie consumption — but exercise has been shown to prevent weight gain after weight loss.
- Journal of Clinical Medicine Research: "Moist Heat or Dry Heat for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness"
- Mayo Clinic Proceedings: "Cardiovascular and Other Health Benefits of Sauna Bathing: A Review of the Evidence"
- Columbia University: "Steam Room vs. Sauna"
- Oschner Health: "Can You Sweat Out Toxins?"
- Piedmont Healthcare: "The Health Benefits of Sweating"
- American Heart Association: "5 Steps to Lose Weight and Keep It Off"
- Mayo Clinic: "Weight Loss: 6 Strategies for Success"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Weight Loss: Can You Do It With Exercise Alone?"
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Exercise for Weight Loss"
- American College of Sports Medicine: "ACSM Information On...Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)"
- Edward-Elmhurt Health: "Saunas, Steam and Soaks — Too Hot For Your Heart?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Why Do Doctors Recommend a Slow Rate of Weight Loss? What's Wrong With Fast Weight Loss?"
- University of Miami Health News: "Sweating: Is Wetter Better for Weight Loss?"