Steam Room Diary: Benefits of the Steam Room

I have a new motivation for exercise, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post. It’s the time I get to spend in the steam room after my workout. It’s what I think about as I pack my gym bag and get out of the house in the evening instead of sitting on the sofa and watching TV.

At first glance, there is nothing impressive about the steam room at the LA Fitness gym. I’m pretty sure the tile hasn’t been scrubbed in quite a while. When I popped my head inside the first time, it smelled a little musty. The plaster on the ceiling was peeling. There were paper towels papier mached to the floor and benches. There was an empty water bottle. I ignored the room the first couple of weeks at the gym, wondering why anyone would want to go in there.

One Saturday, my husband suggested enjoying the co-ed sauna before getting into the pool. During our first visit, we had a nice chat with a woman who was a veteran sauna user. She recommended we bring a towel next time as her son got a staph infection from a sauna. As we chatted with her, I tried to enjoy the dry heat. I was having a hard time breathing. My skin felt funny. I think it was because I was sweating, but my sweat was immediately evaporating. After just a few minutes, I told my husband I had to leave.

The next time he suggested the sauna, I asked if he wouldn’t mind trying the steam room instead. He agreed, so we went to our prospective steam rooms in the locker rooms. Despite not being able to hang out with him, I loved the steam room. I wanted more of the steam room.

Now, after every workout, I head to the locker room and dress down to flip flops, sports bra and panties, or I’ll don my swimsuit if we’re going swimming afterwards. I take an extra towel to sit on and go to the steam room.

Breathing feels good. It smells of eucalyptus and soothes my throat and nasal passages. I can feel my skin cleansing and detoxing. It can feel my muscles relaxing.

Time slows down as I close my eyes and become completely aware of breathing and sweating. It’s almost a spiritual experience, and my thoughts turn toward God. I can feel my pores releasing drops of moisture. It tickles as it trickles down my face, arms, chest and back. It’s like slow motion. But time goes very fast. What seems like five minutes is really twenty.

Living in Southern California, the heat is dry. In general, dry heat is more tolerable than humidity. I have family in Tennessee and have learned that 80 degrees and humid is miserable there compared to 100 degrees and dry here. However, in the summer the inside of my nose cracks and bleeds. The skin on the tips of my fingers and the heels of my feet split. I use a lot of lotion during the day and at night, Neosporin and bandaids on my dry heat wounds. The steam room is a relief.

The benefits of the steam room seem obvious, but I wanted to learn more. Check out Sauna and Steam Bathing:

Steam baths are known for their relaxation and deep skin cleansing, but steam room benefits also include:

  • relief from muscle soreness
  • relief from stiff joints
  • immune system enhancement
  • lymph detoxification
  • blood circulation improvement
  • sinus congestion relief

I especially like this reason:

Pain Relief
Heat has been known to be effective against joint and muscular pain. It causes your blood vessels to expand, which increases blood circulation. As a result, more oxygen and nutrients can reach damaged parts of your body.

This has the double effect of temporarily reducing or stopping pain and increasing your body’s healing rate.

Spend 10 or 15 minutes in a steam room after you exercise for example, and you’ll help speed up healing of damaged muscle tissue.

The website has a section comparing the benefits of the sauna vs. the steam room. It sounds like the benefits are very similar; it’s just a matter of personal preference which one you use.

Do you like to use either the sauna or steam room? Which one? Why?

Here’s yesterday’s food:

Saturday, September 10, 2011
Pedometer: 13,038
Exercise:  35 min treadmill, 45 min upper body strength training, 30 min swimming
Time Serving Size Food Carbs
7:45am 1 slice Whole wheat bread – toast 11
1 Egg 1
6 squirts I can’t believe it’s not butter spray 0
1 mug Coffee 0
2 Tbsp Sugar free Coffee-mate vanilla creamer 2
1 tsp Sugar free Metamucil 0
2 Adult chewable vitamins 0
11:45am 1 ZonePerfect Chocolate Almond Raisin bar 13
2:30pm 1 Lindora vanilla protein shake 11
12 oz Diet Mug Root Beer 0
8pm 1 Lindora Wildberry Passion protein drink 3
9pm 1 bag Lindora Onion Soy Puffs 8
9:30pm 1 wedge Lemon tea with artificial sweetner 1.5
Total Carbs 50.5
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Steam Room Diary: Unwelcome Companions

Photo by Sean Hanlon

During the day, I have found myself looking forward to the feeling I have at the end of my evening workout at the gym. The workouts themselves feel great. I’m kind of addicted! But it’s the feeling I get during my twenty minutes in the steam room, followed by my long, hot shower, that I like best. While my husband drives us home, my whole body feels sated and relaxed.

The steam room experience isn’t always consistent.  The best sessions are when I have the place to myself. I tune everything out. The hissing of the steam vents. The chatter in the locker room on the other side of the glass door. The splashing in the nearby pool. The thumping of the weights hitting the floor a couple of rooms away (took me a while to figure out what that sound was). It’s a great time to breathe easy, to think about nothing, to thing about everything, or to pray. Time slows down. I can completely relax.

But I’m not always alone. The best steam room companions are quiet, stay put, and are modest. Apparently, those are rare.

Instead, there are plenty of women who disturb the steam room peace. There is the pre-teen who can’t stand the heat and keeps stepping outside to cool off (where is her mother?), letting all the steam escape. Then there is the woman who walks in naked and sits on the platform. Who knows when that platform was last cleaned, and she’s adding her own ick to it.  Or the women who come in and talk too much.

Then there is the worst peace killer. It’s the chubby, top heavy white woman who comes wrapped in a towel with a bottle of lotion. She sits on her towel, wearing nothing, and pours lotion into her hands, then starts rubbing it all over her body. The extra wet lubrication of lotion on sweaty skin is positively obscene and absolutely revolting. Even more disturbing are the groans she makes. What the ****? Can it get any worse? Yes. She starts slapping herself, hard, all over her body. And the groans continue. Then suddenly she stops and runs out of the room to the shower. She’s back in a minute to continue her ministrations to herself…

I stayed in the steam room the first time because I was so curious to see what she would do and just how far she would go in this semi-public place. It was just that bizarre. It was like a train wreck. But a couple of nights later, five minutes into my steam room session, in she comes with her bottle of lotion. I had to leave. I couldn’t allow my eyes and ears to be subjected to that again. And I wasn’t brave enough to ask her what she was doing. Whatever it was, it made her feel good. But it ruined my good feelings. Yuck.

I went home and Googled “slapping skin in steam room,” trying to determine if I was witnessing a cultural thing. In Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Russia, there is a tradition of hitting fellow sauna-goers with leafy, wet birch bunches (according to Wikipedia). Also, everything I read about steam rooms is that they are completely nonsexual in all cultures. There are even coed, mandatory nudity rooms in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

So flappy, slappy, nasty lady is apparently a phenomenon—a very unwelcome one, at that.

As long as I don’t run into her, my steam room sessions are awesome.

Here is my food for the past week.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Pedometer: 16,205
Exercise: 30 min treadmill, 20 min ab workout
Time Serving Size Food Carbs
7:45am 1 slice Whole wheat bread – toast 11
1 Egg 1
6 squirts I can’t believe it’s not butter spray 0
1 mug Coffee 0
2 Tbsp Sugar free Coffee-mate vanilla creamer 2
1 tsp Sugar free Metamucil 0
2 Adult chewable vitamins 0
11am 1 Lindora Oatmeal Raisin protein bar 13
1 Coffee with creamer 3
1:45pm 1 Morningstar Veggie Burger 3
1 tsp Mustard 0
2 c Romaine lettuce 3
1/2 c Cucumber 1.5
1/2 c Chinese pea pods 5.5
4:30pm 1 oz String cheese 1
7pm 1 c Edamame soy beans (measured in pods) 10.5
1 Orange 14
11:15pm 1 Lindora orange protein drink 3
Total Carbs 71.5
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Pedometer: 13,498
Exercise: 30 min treadmill, 30 min lower body strength training
Time Serving Size Food Carbs
8am 3/4 c Cheerios 12
1 c Skim milk 12
1 mug Coffee 0
2 Tbsp Sugar free Coffee-mate vanilla creamer 2
1 tsp Sugar free Metamucil 0
2 Adult chewable vitamins 0
10:30am 1 Lindora Oatmeal Raisin protein bar 13
1 Coffee with creamer 3
1pm 1/2 c Dannon Lite & Fit yogurt 10
1 c Strawberries 11
2 c Romaine lettuce 3
1/2 c Cucumber 1.5
1/2 c Chinese pea pods 5.5
12 oz Diet Squirt 0
5pm 0.5 oz String cheese 0.5
1.25 oz Deli turkey breast 0.5
7pm 2.5 oz El Pollo Loco chicken 0
2 c El Pollo Loco salad 3
1/2 c El Pollo Loco Pico di Gallo 5
Lots Diet Coke 0
11:30pm 1 Lindora Wildberry Passion protein drink 3
Total Carbs 85
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Pedometer: 14,591
Exercise: 30 min treadmill, 15 min crossramp, 20 min water aerobics
Notes: A bad day. I was tired and bummed out. Felt like a spoiled brat, like it wasn’t fair that I had to eat right. I stayed on track anyway. Huge success, though – I felt terrible physically but still went to the gym. It was AWESOME. It felt great. It completely changed how I felt in every way.
Time Serving Size Food Carbs
8am 3/4 c Cheerios 12
1 c Skim milk 12
1 mug Coffee 0
2 Tbsp Sugar free Coffee-mate vanilla creamer 2
1 tsp Sugar free Metamucil 0
2 Adult chewable vitamins 0
10:15am 0.5 oz String cheese 0.5
1.25 oz Deli turkey breast 0.5
12pm 1 ZonePerfect Trail Mix bar 13
Coffee with 2 creamers 6
2:30pm 1 bag Lindora Onion Soy Puffs (Excellent!) 8
4:30pm 1 ZonePerfect Chocolate Mint bar 13
6:30pm 1 Egg 1
1/2 small Tomato 5
1/4 c Onion 3
1/2 small Grapefruit 10
Lots Water 0
8:30pm 8 oz Lindora Chocolate protein shake 1
11pm 1 Lindora Orange protein drink 3
Total Carbs 90
Friday, September 9, 2011 – Protein Day and Free Meal
Pedometer: 9,537
Exercise: Nothing formal
Time Serving Size Food Carbs
8am 1 c Skim milk 12
1 mug Coffee 0
2 Tbsp Sugar free Coffee-mate vanilla creamer 2
1 tsp Sugar free Metamucil 0
2 Adult chewable vitamins 0
10:45am 0.5 oz String cheese 0.5
1.25 oz Deli turkey breast 0.5
12:30pm 1 bag Lindora Onion Soy Puffs 8
2:45pm 1 ZonePerfect Trail Mix bar 13
4:30pm 8 oz Lindora Chocolate protein shake 1
7pm 1 slice Coscto pizza slice 65
Half Costco hot dog with bun (no toppings) 24
Total Carbs 126