The good news is that time spent in a sauna can actually help you lose weight. The bad news is that the weight you lose in a sauna is almost entirely water weight caused by heat-induced sweating.
Though many manufacturers of saunas tout their weight-loss powers, there is little science behind the idea that saunas magically make you burn fat or otherwise lose weight.
In this article, we’ll look at the scientific evidence regarding weight loss and saunas, and the quality of that science (spoiler: it’s not good). For those who are simply looking to cut a few pounds of water weight temporarily, we’ll also look at how to sauna for weight loss. Realistically, though, you want to be focused on your eating habits, not your sauna habits.
Regardless, just because saunas aren’t fat-burning machines doesn’t mean there are no benefits. We’ll also touch on some of the potential health benefits of saunas.
- 1 What is a Sauna?
- 2 How to Sauna for Weight Loss
- 3 What to Keep in Mind if You Use a Sauna for Weight Loss
- 4 Conclusion
What is a Sauna?
A sauna is a small room or enclosure that heats up to very hot temperatures using various heating methods. Saunas originated in frigid Scandanavia, and classically they were heated by wood. This heat is a very dry heat, and steam was frequently added to the mix.
Modern saunas are often infrared saunas, and use infrared light to heat the room. This heat is also very dry, but there’s no easy way to add steam.
Other sauna designs use steam in different ways. We’ll look at the various types here.
Types of Saunas
You’ll find a handful of different sauna types you can choose from. See here detailed for a breakdown of the various types of sauna.
Wood burning saunas use both wood and sauna rocks to help heat up the sauna. While they can produce high temperatures, they have low humidity. Barrel saunas and sauna kits are available for those who want the authentic Finnish sauna experience. Or build your own custom sauna!
Another type of sauna is a far-infrared sauna. This type uses light waves to help create heat which is directed toward the person’s body rather than throughout the entire sauna. However, compared to other types of sauna, the far-infrared sauna uses much lower temperatures.
A steam sauna is one of the most common types of sauna. Rather than using dry heat, such as with electric saunas, they emit heavy amounts of steam.
Units that are specifically steam saunas tend to be the tent-style portable steam saunas.
The Benefits of Using a Sauna
There are many benefits that come with using a sauna. Below are some common ones you’ll find if you decide to use one.
It Helps with Cardiovascular Health
A surprising benefit of using a sauna is that is can improve cardiac performance. This is because it reduces stress and tension which can relax your body’s muscles. It also helps with improving your circulation and encouraging the release of endorphins throughout your body.
There is even some fairly good data that sauna use is associated with increased longevity!
Sauna Baths May Help Lower Blood Pressure
A Finnish study found that regular sauna use was associated with markedly lower levels of blood pressure, especially among people with high blood pressure. However, some find that rapid temperature changes can raise blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, be sure to consult your physician before sauna use.
Sauna Baths Can Reduce Joint Pain
If you often suffer from Rheumatoid Arthritis, sore joints, and muscle pain, time spent in a sauna may help you. Because the sauna can help to release endorphins, saunas can reduce joint or muscle pain you might have. It also increases your blood circulation and flushes out toxins in your body that could be causing this pain.
How a Sauna Can Help with Weight Loss
As mentioned above, there is very little data that using a sauna will actually help you burn fat. Sure, you can find studies like this one from Binghamton University that the manufacturers love to promote. The study shows that people who spent time in an infrared sauna shed some body fat, and those who spent time later in the day had a greater effect.
But the study didn’t track eating habits or exercise habits, so there’s no way to tell if the sauna is what caused the weight loss.
We would love to see some better research with a better study design, as the result mentioned above is at least a little bit interesting. But as of now, there’s no evidence that saunas can help you burn fat.
Saunas can help you lose water weight in the short term, though, if that’s your goal.
How to Sauna for Weight Loss
If you’re simply looking to shed 2-3 lbs of water weight over the short term, a sauna may not be a terrible solution. Of course, as you rehydrate, you’ll add those pounds back on.
But if you’re looking to peel off a few pounds before heading to the beach, or maybe to a wedding or other place where you want to look your best, then using the sauna is a great solution.
As Dr. Brent A. Bauer, research director at Mayo Clinic Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program states, “Short-term weight loss [from infrared saunas] is very possible and almost entirely due to water loss.”
Below are some important tips to consider if you want to use a sauna for weight loss.
Do 15-30 Minute Sessions
The right amount of time to use a sauna for weight loss is around 15-30 minutes. This will work to make your body sweat, but not so much as to cause problems. You’ll want to do these sessions a few times per week for best results.
How Long in a Sauna to Lose Two Pounds?
Let’s aim for two pounds of weight loss, as an example. You need to burn 3,500 calories to drop one pound, or 7,000 to lose two pounds. Depending on the type of sauna you use, you may shed from 300-600 calories in a 30-minute sauna bath. Some sources suggest up to 1,000 calories, but this is almost certainly an exaggeration.
Regardless, you’re looking at upwards of 12 sauna visits to lose two lbs. If you’re using a sauna blanket or portable sauna, this can be quite easily achieved. Or if you’re going to the gym regularly or have a home sauna, you’ve got it made.
Focus on Your Eating Habits
Look, if you want to lose weight, you should be focused on your eating habits and dietary choices, not your sauna habits. Spending your time and effort improving your eating habits will provide much, much more reward than playing around with saunas for weight loss.
Couple Your Sauna Time with a Workout
You probably won’t lose weight exercising, but you will gain muscle, improve your looks, and improve your overall health. Exercise isn’t a path to weight loss: for that, you really need to change what you eat. But exercise can help reinforce your healthy choices. The sauna can, as well.
Don’t Use a Sauna Before a Workout
Some might think that they should use a sauna before they workout as they believe this can help them to lose even more weight. However, this isn’t safe. In fact, it could make you very dehydrated and even increase your risk for injuries.
Start Off Slow
It might be tempting to try to sit in the sauna for long periods of time, but this isn’t the best method to use. Instead, you’ll want to start off slowly. This way, your body can get used to using the sauna. Ideally, you should start at about five minutes and slowly work your way up to 30-minute sessions.
What to Keep in Mind if You Use a Sauna for Weight Loss
If you decide to use a sauna for weight loss you’ll want to keep a few things in mind.
Yes, this works at cross-purposes to losing water weight in a sauna! It’s a tough balance, but you still want to be drinking fluids after your sauna time. It will take a few days to restore the weight you shed in the sauna.
But water is not your enemy, and you should still be drinking to rehydrate your body, understanding that over the next few days, you’ll be adding back some water weight.
People carrying around more weight, who have a higher Body Mass Index (BMI), are more susceptible to dehydration from time spent in a sauna. The higher your weight, the more you need to be replenishing your water.
Watch Your Time in the Sauna if You Have High Blood Pressure
Sometimes moving in between hot and cold temperatures can cause your blood pressure to fluctuate. Due to this, it could end up creating problems with your blood pressure. However, as mentioned above, there is some evidence that sauna use can help lower blood pressure.
If you suffer from high blood pressure or heart problems, it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor to make sure you can safely use a sauna.
Don’t believe the hype that saunas will remove body fat like magic. There is no evidence that this is the case at this point. That said, more research on the benefits of saunas needs to be done.
If you’re simply looking to cut a few pounds of water weight for a wrestling or boxing weigh-in, or want to drop a few pounds before a wedding or significant event, a sauna is a decent solution. You can reliably shed 4-5 lbs of water weight over the short term. This weight will be gradually put back on over the next few days.
But if you time it right, you can get some weight loss benefits by using a sauna sensibly.