You can’t search for articles on “steam room” on the internet very long without coming across infomercial style weight loss claims: “Lose weight fast! With our new Super Steam Bath, you’ll be burning up to 600 calories every half hour, all without moving a muscle! Act now! Operators are standing by!”
Meanwhile, the fitness gurus, like Chris Klebba all say “the effects of a steam room on weight loss are due to a loss of water from sweating, not actual fat loss. Bottom line, forget it for fat loss.”
So who’s right? Well in a strange twist, both of them are wrong!
Steam rooms don’t burn many calories. But they do help regulate hormones that drive us to overeat. Interestingly, a steam room also helps those who don’t eat enough to eat more.
Better still, regular steam room users have improved circulation, which can help prevent atherosclerosis, and reverse the effects of coronary heart disease.
These are conclusions from a 2003 study by Kagoshima University in Japan, where a team of researchers studied the effects of steam bath therapy on lifestyle diseases. The study began as a test to see if steam bathing could be used to improve the health of patients with congestive heart failure. The team noted improvement in both the symptoms and cardiac function of their subjects after a single steam bath, and continued improvement with more, regular steam baths.
When they examined the underlying mechanism of these improvements, they hypothesized that a similar improvement in the health of patients with lifestyle-related diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking and obesity could also be improved with regular steam bathing.
They tested a group of “at risk” people, who each had one or more of these conditions, and were not receiving treatment for any of these. What they found surprised them. After 2 weeks of daily steam room use, where they raised their body temperature by 2°F (1°C) for 30 minutes, they found that every member of the group had a lower blood pressure. Fasting plasma glucose and body weight also went down for the group.
To study this further, they repeated the study with a group of 5 men and 5 women. For 2 weeks, they all ate a controlled diet of 1800 calories / day, and each took a single steam bath each day. At the end, all 10 had lost weight. Their collective body fat fell from an average of 42% to 37%.
They did not attribute these results to calorie burn in the steam room, but instead to better regulation of the hormones that controlled their appetite. During the study, the subjects did not get hungry as quickly, and did not tend to overeat or snack between meals.
Coronary heart disease patients who were under eating as a result of their disease did the exact opposite: Regular steam baths improved their appetite, and they ate more to get them back to a healthy weight.
So, if you want to drop a few pounds, spend time every day in the steam room or sauna at your gym. You aren’t burning calories, but you should lose weight. Isn’t that what counts?