Saunas are a staple of health and fitness clubs, and products such as sauna suits make amazing promises about weight loss. But when something -- such as losing weight simply by sitting in steam -- seems too good to be true, it probably is, and saunas are no exception. Saunas do offer some benefits, but there is no evidence that they will help you shed fat more quickly.
In an interview with the "Los Angeles Times," John Porcari, who studies fitness at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse, emphasized that a sauna doesn't burn many more calories than just sitting around watching television. You burn calories no matter what you're doing, so you will burn some calories sitting in a sauna. The heat of the sauna may elevate your heart rate, which can slightly increase the number of calories you burn, but not by a number significant enough to reduce fat or help you lose weight.
Risks of Saunas
Saunas can be risky, particularly for people who have heart or blood pressure problems. As your body heats up, your heart rate increases and your blood pressure elevates to increase the blood supply to your organs and muscles. For people with heart difficulties, this can increase their risk of cardiac episodes. Perhaps even more disturbing, a sauna can quickly dehydrate you. You may not feel thirsty because you're surrounded by water and steam, but sweat requires water and if you're sweating a lot, you're at a high risk of dehydration.
Benefits of Saunas
If you're in good health and have your doctor's permission, a sauna may still do you some good, particularly if you drink plenty of water and keep your time in the sauna to 20 minutes or so. A study in the "Journal of Science and Medicine in Sports" found that regular time in a sauna after exercise improved endurance in competitive male runners. Women and noncompetitive athletes may also get the same benefits. A few minutes in a sauna can also help to relax you after a grueling workout, so if you enjoy your sauna time, there's no harm in sticking with it, so long as you understand that it's not going to magically melt away calories.
Fat Loss Tips
While you might not be able to rest blissfully in a sauna and lose weight, there are much more effective methods for weight loss. To lose 1 pound, you need to shed about 3,500 calories through a combination of diet and exercise. Regular aerobic exercise, which improves heart health and works large groups of muscles, and a few days per week of strength training are the recipe for gradual, healthy weight loss that won't leave you sweating yourself into dehydration.
- Annals of Internal Medicine: Hazard of Sauna Use After Strenuous Exercise
- Journal of Science and Medicine in Sports: Effect of Post-Exercise Sauna Bathing on the Endurance Performance of Competitive Male Runners
- Los Angeles Times: Jacuzzi or Couch? Calories Burned Are About the Same
- Biology: Life on Earth with Physiology; Gerald Audesirk et al.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.