Steam v Sauna, and their Health Benefits

I joined the YMCA last summer (had to do something about that belly; was starting to look a lot like Snoopy). I have two gyms nearby and sometimes I go to one and sometimes to the other.

Gym#1 has a steam bath in the locker room. Gym#2 has a sauna instead. I tend to prefer the sauna, but either one is relaxing after doing the gym thing.

Question: Aside from feeling good to tired muscles, what do they do for the body? There seem to be a handful of powerjock types at both locations who know how to run the temp up rather high, and they appear to be staying in as long as possible, far beyond the point of exceeding comfort. Are they just being jerks, or is there a health benefit to being in a very warm dry (or wet) room for long stretches?

I assume the following things are true: that it is good for the skin’s pores to be heated up to the point that you sweat to a sheen all over, to rinse out grime and oils–but that this benefit doesn’t get better for you the longer you stay in; that you are losing water from your system, and a little bit of waste excreted through your sweat, while you’re in there–but that the waste-excreting benefits do not scale in a linear relationship to time spent, and the water itself is going to be replenished, and needs to be; and, furthermore, that electrolytes are lost along with the other components of sweat, which can even approach dangerous if you were to stay in for a really long time after having already worked out in the gym–and these need to be replaced also. (and do Gatorade & equivalents do an adequate job if you’ve been cooking in there for a really long time?)

What do steam / sauna baths do to or for the heart? Lungs? Throat? Sinuses?

And are there risks / benefits of one that make it superior to the other?

This is the worst sort of hearsay, but nevermind, I’ll repeat it anyway FWIW.

My best friend’s sister-in-law is a physician. She read a medical journal article (which one? I have no idea :slight_smile:) comparing incidence of bronchial infections between (IIRC) heavy-sauna-using Swedes on the one hand, and non-sauna-favoring, but genetically and culturally similar Danes on the other. The Swedes suffered significantly more bronchial infections, which the article theorized resulted from sauna’s excessive drying of the sinuses and throat.

A steam is a wonderful thing. 5 of the last 6 houses that my parents have lived in either had a steam room, or they installed one.
Health benefits? I don’t know, but I do know that when you have a cold, the intense wet heat of a steam feels really good.

This site explains benefits of a steam bath, but they are trying to sell them. However, they do say that the moisture is good for the sinuses, unlike what OxyMoron mentions about saunas.

From this site:

Well, DUH. Everyone knows that Swedes just can’t handle something so Finnish as the sauna. Obviously, they idolize the Finns and imitate them every chance they get, which would explain their occupation of the country for several hundred years. But really, it will just do physical harm to a Swede to try to endure the ordeal of getting in a really hot little log cabin, drinking a lot of beer, getting whipped with birch branches, getting out and rolling in the snow or JUMPING INTO BELOW-FREEZING WATER :eek:, and repeating the cycle several times. To do all that safely takes a certain Finnish quality known as “sisu.”

Come to think of it, I can’t believe that the Swedes have survived this long, what with being sandwiched in between the two threats of lutefisk and saunas.

Can you tell I’m half Finnish?

Saunas and steam rooms are relaxing. That’s all. No health benefits, as you pointed out, they could be dangerous. Most of the OP points are valid, except opening the pores and sweating, eliminating toxins or waste. That’s why we have kidneys, bladders, etc.

I see many obese people use these for long periods, thinking they’re losing weight, as they are too lazy to work out to do it. They’re losing weight, all right, but as the OP said, it’s all water, something you don’t want to lose.

I don’t know about the sinuses, colds, URIs. I’ve tried both when I’ve had colds, with no success with either.

My doctor (David Shapiro, MD) recommends steam and chicken soup for sinusitis. He says the chicken soup thing is not just because he’s Jewish. The New England Journal of Medicine, he says, cites a study.

Well, that’s right, only it doesn’t have to be chicken soup. Any hot soup will do. I haven’t read anywhere, however, where steam will do the same, but logically it should.

I just installed a new steam unit in my bathroom… It does wonders for a cold. The rule is; Dry sauna heat great for muscle tension, wet steam het, great for respiration.