It’s well-known that saunas have all kinds of health benefits – they can help you relax and destress, they improve heart health and circulation, they’re a panacea for all kinds of aches and pains, and they can even help you get a better night’s sleep.
However, one claim you may occasionally hear is that you can also lose weight just by sitting in a sauna – but that’s got to be too good to be true, right? In a word, yes, it probably is, and to explain why, in this post we answer the question, do saunas help you lose weight?
What do we mean by weight loss?
Before we get into whether or not saunas can help you lose weight, we need to take a step back and think about exactly what we mean by “lose weight” because there are different ways to think about this.
When we say “lose weight”, we’re usually thinking about the number on the scales. If you step on the scales one day and the number is lower than the day before, technically, you’ve “lost weight”.
However, when we talk about losing weight, we’re really using this as a kind of shorthand to say “losing body fat”.
This is because most of the time, what we’re interested in is the way our bodies look or that being overweight might affect our health.
We’re not really interested in the number itself, but weighing ourselves gives us a quick and easy way to gauge how much fat we’re gaingin or losing over time because that’s what that number represents.
This is important, as we’ll see, because there’s a big difference between reducing your weight by losing water in the short term and reducing body fat in the long term.
So now we’re clear on that, before we move on to looking at how effective saunas are for weight loss, let’s think about the more traditional way to shed the pounds.
What’s the traditional way to lose weight?
In theory, losing weight is easy. All you have to do is burn more calories than you consume each day. Of course, you can go a whole lot deeper into this, but in simple terms, if you eat less and exercise more, you will lose weight.
There are a whole lot of fancy diets people try to follow, but if you reduce your calorie intake and start being more active, that alone will do the job. That’s it. That’s all there is to it.
However, in reality, it isn’t quite that easy, and that’s because we’re not robots. We’re human being with moods and emotions, and that makes it a whole lot more difficult.
To lose weight, you also need patience because it doesn’t happen overnight. It can take a while to see a noticeable difference, and if you’re trying to stick to a diet and exercise program, it can be easy to lose heart and give up.
Furthermore, cutting out some of your favorite things like hamburgers, beer or soda can be difficult for many people, and going to the gym or going out for a run is hard work.
And then, even if you’re doing well, all it takes is for you to have a bad day and the next thing you know, you’re sat in front of the tv with an empty pizza box on the floor and a half-finished tub of ice cream in your hand.
This is why people are always on the lookout for miracle solutions for weight loss, which is understandable. And this brings us to using a sauna for getting in shape, so let’s think about that now.
Why do people think saunas make you lose weight?
Many people claim that saunas can help you lose weight, but why is this? There are probably two main reasons, so let’s look at each in turn.
1. Losing water weight
As we’ve seen, many people forget that losing weight really means losing body fat. They become fixated on the numbers on the scales and forget what they are really measuring.
Then, when they weigh themselves before and after a sauna, they notice that there is a difference – when they come out of the sauna, they’re lighter than when they went in, which means they’ve lost weight. Fantastic!
Except it’s not – because all they’re losing is water. You can easily sweat out a pint of water in half an hour in a sauna, but if you then drink a pint of water, you’ll instantly put the “weight” back on, so this isn’t really losing weight at all in any useful way.
To put it in context, you also “lose weight” when you go to the bathroom, but we don’t market toilets as a weight loss solution. However, trying to claim saunas are good for weight loss simply because you lose water through sweating is practically the same thing!
2. Increasing metabolism
Another idea is that when you step into a sauna, it supposedly increases your metabolism, causing you to burn calories faster. But is it true? Well, not exactly.
When you exercise, your heart beats faster, you sweat more, your metabolism increases and you burn more calories.
However, just because your heart beats faster and you sweat more in a sauna too, it doesn’t follow that your metabolism also increases and you burn more calories – this is just false reasoning.
In fact, your metabolism does increase slightly when you’re in a sauna, but you will sometimes hear outlandish claims that a 30-minute sauna session can burn the same amount of calories as a moderate workout.
You may even see figures like 300 or as much as 1000 calories thrown about, but this is pure fantasy, which is obvious when you really think about it.
Very roughly, burning 300 calories is the equivalent of a two-mile run – give or take a little, depending on a range of factors. While running, your heart rate increases, you sweat and yes, your metabolism increases.
Running two miles can be quite strenuous, and it’s not something that everyone is capable of. So how could it be possible to burn the same amount of calories by doing nothing more than sitting in a hot room? It just doesn’t make any sense.
But if that isn’t enough to convince you, let’s do some calculations.
The thing to remember is that we burn calories all the time throughout the day, even when we’re sitting still.
An average healthy male of 185lbs burns around 42 calories while at rest, and in a sauna this can be multiplied by 1.5 or 2, giving you about 63-84 calories. This is a far cry from what you would expect to burn by going for a run or working out in the gym.
So in short, while saunas may increase your metabolism slightly, the difference is negligible when it comes to real meaningful weight loss and the results you can expect from even light to moderate exercise.
So do saunas make you lose weight?
So do saunas make you lose weight in a meaningful way while you do nothing but sit and sweat? No, they don’t.
It’s true that saunas make you sweat out water – and this is why boxers or MMA fighters may use saunas when they need to make weight for a fight, but this is different. In this case, the number on the scales really is the objective, but in normal life, this is meaningless.
Saunas also don’t increase your metabolism or cause you to burn more calories or fat, so, unfortunately, sitting in a sauna by itself won’t cause you to lose weight. Sorry.
But more than this, if you want to lose weight, being dehydrated will actually make it more difficult because it will mean you can’t work out as hard or as for long. So when it comes to burning body fat, losing weight by sweating out water is something you want to avoid.
The fact is, if something sounds too good to be true, it almost invariably is – and if anyone claims to have discovered a magical way of doing something like losing weight with no effort, it’s very likely to be a scam.
But are there any other ways saunas can help?
Having said all this, are there ways that saunas can be beneficial if you’re trying to lose weight? Here, the answer is yes, there are. So now let’s talk about how.
1. Saunas help recuperation after sport
Although sitting in a sauna can’t replace physical activity, it can help you recover more quickly after exercise. This means if you put in a strenuous session in the gym or go for a long run, a sauna can help with sore muscles as well as any stiffness or other aches.
While this in itself won’t cause you to lose weight, it will allow you to get back in the gym more quickly, and it will ensure you can be as effective as possible when you get there.
Perhaps one of the main reasons people give up on their fitness programs is the fact that gym sessions can leave you aching all over, and when you’re in that state, going back for another workout is the last thing you want.
However, by using a sauna, you’ll be ready to go again in no time, which means you’re more likely to succeed in losing weight.
2. Reduce stress – and the risk of comfort eating or drinking alcohol
Since saunas help reduce stress, this can also contribute to your weight-loss program indirectly.
When people are stressed or unhappy, one of the most common behaviors they turn to is comfort eating – and comfort eating usually involves things like chocolate or pizza rather than raw carrots or celery!
What this means is, for people who are trying to watch what they eat, looking after their mental health is important too. The happier and more stress-free you are, the more unlikely you are to eat things you shouldn’t, and this will contribute to the success of your diet.
Losing weight can often be all about virtuous or vicious cycles.
If you start putting on weight, you feel more depressed, which can lead to eating more – which causes you to put on even more weight, and so on. But if you start to lose weight, it makes you feel good, which encourages you to keep going, reinforcing the good habits.
Being stress-free and in a good state of mind can help flip you into the virtuous cycle version of this, and when you get there, losing weight becomes much easier.
Finally, another behavior that stress can cause is drinking – and as everyone knows, too much alcohol makes you fat. So if a sauna can help you destress and reduce your alcohol consumption, this can help too.
3. Improved sleep
Finally, using saunas can help you get better sleep – they will help you drop off more easily in the first place, and they can also help you get more of the deep sleep you need to maintain mental and physical health.
Sleeping well at the proper times and for long enough is a vital part of keeping fit and healthy – and it will also contribute to you not overeating or eating badly, much as reducing stress can.
If you want to know more about some of the supposed benefits of saunas, you can also check out this video.
What about other types of sauna?
So far, we’ve been talking about traditional saunas, but what about other types? Can they help you lose weight?
The answer is that sauna blankets and sit-in infrared saunas can probably contribute in the same way as traditional saunas since they offer similar benefits, like relieving muscle stiffness, reducing stress and improving sleep.
However, sauna belts are not recommended since they are based on pseudo-science and the false notion of spot reduction. Sauna belts can even have adverse effects such as making it harder to exercise or causing your body to overheat, reducing your ability to work out.
This means that at best, wearing a sauna belt is useless – but at worst, it’s counterproductive. So as such, they are best avoided.
To summarize, can saunas directly cause you to burn fat or calories? No, they can’t. While they can cause you to drop a pound or two just through sweating, this is not useful weight loss, and nor can they increase your metabolism to burn fat and calories without the need to exercise.
However, if you incorporate sauna use into your regular healthy lifestyle that includes exercise and eating the right foods, it can contribute to weight loss or maintaining a healthy body weight, and for that reason, using a sauna in the right way is a recommended option.