Steam Rooms: The Surprising Anti-Aging Treatment
How the Soothing Benefits of Heat Therapy Can Help You Feel and Look Younger Than Your Years
Over the last decade, the “anti-aging” market has grown faster than the actual aging population. The global anti-aging sector is set to exceed $331 billion by 2021, led by that ubiquitous demographic, the Baby Boomers (Americans born between 1946-1964). The generation that gave the world the Summer of Love has no love for aging, and they’re doing their best to remain healthy and vibrant in their golden years.
Easier said than done. As writer Philip Roth once wrote: “Old age isn’t a battle. Old age is a massacre.”
Aging populations agree, reaching for a number of anti-aging products, surgeries, and therapies to stave off the massacre. Leading the way are anti-wrinkle topicals, which are estimated to comprise 70% of the anti-aging product market by 2022. Cosmetic surgery, invasive and otherwise, is increasing (e.g., hair grafts, Botox, facelifts, etc.), and stress-relieving, hormone-boosting dietary supplements are gaining steam. Prescription medications for testosterone replacement therapy and other youth-oriented pharmaceuticals are also on the rise.
More exotic and untested methods have been explored by the super-rich, including blood transfusions from the young and stem cell therapies. Some of these extreme “mad-scientist” experiments are often associated with eccentric Silicon Valley tech moguls who try to bio-hack the body’s natural processes. In the year 2018, the bicentennial of the publication of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” it should be obvious that tinkering with nature can have unintended consequences.
It’s time to get back to basics and simplify the anti-aging therapeutic approach. And that starts with a steam room.
More Than a Skin Treatment
Steam has long been valued for its ability to open up pores and maintain elasticity of the epidermis by working the surface of the skin and below via the dermis and subcutaneous tissue. Some people invest in “facial steamers,” but while these can provide benefits, using them misses out on the total body cleansing of a steam room session. Heat therapy may not only help balance pH levels; it could act as a barrier to impurities that you build up during the day. Then the sweat that naturally occurs in the humidity of a steam room can flush the toxins away.
Some anti-wrinkle creams that promise to remove bags under the eyes and smooth creased skin serve to only dry out the areas of application. Your skin may look younger, but only for a short while. Soon, the bags and wrinkles reappear. Steam therapy is a long-term treatment option that will help you maintain a youthful look long after you leave the healing vapors of the steam room. Creams and other topicals can lock in pollutants while it creates a surface-only effect. Steam heat flushes the waste products from your pores, letting your skin “breathe” free.
But the potential anti-aging effects of steam rooms are more than skin deep. Anti-wrinkle creams usually include antioxidants intended to combat toxic free radicals from pollutants and other aerial bacteria. Steam may reach these free radicals at a level deeper than the epidermis. In fact, one study found that heat therapy can help reduce heavy metals like mercury in the bloodstream. And because of the body’s sweat response to steam heat, the toxins are then washed from the body. Our bodies absorb metals from the air, our food, even our dietary supplements, so defense against these potentially harmful elements can be part of maintaining a healthy defense from the effects of environmental stresses.
To get the most out of your steam room session, some dermatologists recommend gently exfoliating before you enter the steam room to enhance the flushing response. Try that for an even better result for your skin.
Cell Rejuvenation and Regeneration
Your anti-aging regimen should always include activities that boost general health. A regular exercise routine and eating a healthy diet are essential for maintaining your body’s physiological systems. For instance:
- A study in the journal Aging Cell found that men and women aged 55-79 who regularly exercised did not have age-related increases in body fat and cholesterol levels. Even better, their immune systems were as strong as those of younger people
- Foods that contain omega 3 fatty acids (common in fish like salmon), and nutrients in fruits and vegetables can help preserve telomeres (chromosomes linked to healthy aging).
No pill or cosmetic surgery can replicate the anti-aging effects of exercise and diet (though scientists keep trying). But what you can do is choose activities and therapies that can help support the rejuvenating effects of exercise and diet.
Heat therapy helps support post-workout healing after exercise by relieving oxidative stress on muscle. This also helps preserve muscle mass, which is an important element in maintaining a healthy overall profile. Loss of muscle mass is a common result of aging.
Regular, intermittent exposure to heat may also help boost hormones associated with cell regeneration. A study on hyperthermic conditioning with animal subjects discovered a significant increase in release of growth hormone, a favorite treatment of the anti-aging crowd. 
Some studies in heat acclimation have found strong effects in regulating gene expression, most notably the HSP70 gene, which is associated with longevity. HSP is an acronym for “heat shock proteins,” which are intercellular “chaperones” for other proteins, which aids cellular health and function. Regulation of HSPs has been shown to help increase longevity in lower organisms, but human studies have yet to be launched.
While specific mechanisms of these cellular effects from heat therapy aren’t completely understood, the role steam rooms play in supporting the positive benefits of exercise has made steam therapy popular with athletes of all ages, and particularly with older exercisers looking to maintain their physical strength and endurance.
Stress: It’s a Killer
Every anti-aging regimen has to account for the damage stress puts on the body. From cardiovascular health to the epidermis, stress hormones can age a person beyond their years. Experts are clear: emotional stress speeds up cellular aging. This is due to the shortening of DNA telomeres from the repeated assault of cortisol and other stress hormones.
If you’re old enough to have an anti-aging routine, this isn’t news to you. In fact, you should already have a stress management system in place. Long-term emotional well-being is a larger project, but even if you live a satisfying, happy life, your body still absorbs daily stresses and annoyances that can still do a number on the aging process.
The old saying “don’t sweat the small stuff” is ironic in the context of a steam room. Because that’s exactly what you do: You sweat the small stresses from your daily routine out of your body. Step into a steam room and your muscles and joints will relax just by acclimating to the heat. Steam heat promotes deep relaxation, relieving tension from head to toe. You can choose to enhance the steam environment with music or aromatherapy. Some people swear by eucalyptus steam as a way to reduce exhaustion and revive the senses.
Research also indicates that steam therapy can help raise endorphins, reduce cortisol, and boost serotonin, the feel-good hormone.  These effects don’t just help relieve stress, but can help improve sleep. As we age, sleep disorders increase, and steam rooms, as part of a daily routine, can contribute to a deeper, more relaxing night’s sleep.
“I’m Not Older, I’m Awesome!”
Living longer is a great. Living healthier is even better. As we age, we truly realize that “health is wealth.” The range of benefits that steam rooms provide can help you not only increase longevity, but enjoy your later years more fully.
You can’t change your genetics, and you can’t change the inevitable aging process. But you can live your best life every day. See how steam can help you look and feel better well into your golden years.
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