03 Jan Improved Circulation
With heart disease still topping the list of the leading causes of death in the United States, it’s important to find ways to safeguard your cardiovascular health. While diet and exercise are key for a healthy heart, you can also take care of your ticker by enjoying a steam shower.
According to the Mayo Clinic, heart (or cardiovascular) disease “generally refers to conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke.” Keeping those blood vessels clear is the best way to avoid heart trouble. So how does taking a steam shower help with this? By improving circulation.
According to Doug Linz, Medical Director at TriHealth Corporate Health, it’s smart to “avoid beverage alcohol and excessive caffeine intake” prior to enjoying a steam shower.
What Is Circulation?
The term circulation refers to the vital work of your circulatory system (also known as your cardiovascular system), which is made up of your heart and blood vessels. This system is responsible for circulating blood and oxygen around your body—a process that is necessary to keep you alive.
A 2012 study found that moist heat—such as that found in a steam shower—can cause the blood vessels in the skin to dilate. Known as vasodilation, this process results in increased blood flow and is just what your body needs to keep oxygen-rich blood moving to all its parts. As an added bonus, the study showed that moist heat can decrease blood pressure in some cases. Since the Mayo Clinic lists high blood pressure as one of the risk factors for developing heart disease, this is an especially important benefit of steam showers.
De-stress for a Healthy Heart
Stress can have a negative impact on many areas of our lives, especially our health. “When stress is excessive, it can contribute to everything from high blood pressure, also called hypertension, to asthma to ulcers to irritable bowel syndrome,” says Ernesto L. Schiffrin, Physician-in-Chief of the Department of Medicine at Jewish General Hospital. Furthermore, the Mayo Clinic notes that “unrelieved stress may damage your arteries and worsen other risk factors for heart disease.”
The good news is that steam can help. As discussed in our article on detoxification, stress relief is one of the most advantageous aspects of steam showers, and its benefits can extend to your heart. A steam shower can help you feel relaxed while alleviating the negative physical effects of stress at the same time. These benefits can be heightened during cold or gloomy months, when seasonal depression is likely to set in. Naturopath Gabrielle Frances likens a steam shower to a vacation to a hot climate, increasing your brain’s output of serotonin. “Serotonin is our happy molecule,” Frances says. “It gives us a sense of well-being, like it’s a sunny day outside.”
A Cardiovascular Caveat
While a good steam can be a boon for most people’s cardiovascular health, some of us have to take extra precautions. According to the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD), those with high blood pressure (hypertension) should not “sit in the steam room, sauna or hot tub immediately after exercise, especially if taking blood pressure-lowering medications.” The NCHPAD warns that “this can cause your blood pressure to drop significantly and can cause you to faint.”
Also, Doug Linz, Medical Director at TriHealth Corporate Health, says that because a steam shower causes more blood to flow to the skin, it can actually cause a decrease of blood flow to the internal organs. While this is not a concern for the average healthy individual, Linz warns that “this can be a problem for folks with coronary heart disease.”