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Using the Sauna for Losing Weight – Does it Work?

by Max
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Using the Sauna for Losing Weight - Does it Work?

After taking a sauna, it’s natural to feel more lithe and awake. That feeling of relaxation and clarity makes an excellent post-workout cooldown which is why so many athletes use saunas after a hard day. However, many people treat the sauna not as a post-workout but as a place where you can lose weight outright. There have been decades of talk and studies about whether or not saunas can genuinely make you lose weight. While some stand firm that sauna use not only helps but causes weight loss, there is an equally staunch camp that sees it all as a fantasy. Let’s explore together all of the ways saunas both can and can’t help you lose weight.

Do Saunas Make You Lose Weight?

Saunas technically do make people lose weight. But the weight you lose in the sauna probably isn’t the weight you’re interested in losing. It is entirely possible for a person to weigh themselves before and after a sauna and see their number drop. So, yes. Saunas make people lose weight … but why?

Why Do Saunas Make You Lose Weight?

Think about what happens when you spend time in the sauna. Anyone in a hot sauna is bound to sweat and probably sweat a lot. When the body gets hotter, the water supply kept close to the edge of the skin starts to seep out of the body to keep us as cool as possible. As that sweat drips off your body, it technically accounts for part of your overall body mass. If you sweat enough, it’s more than possible to tip a scale down a kilogram. This, however, is not the type of weight loss that people are generally looking for.

This weight loss isn’t related to excess fat but rather to water weight. A good portion of our overall weight is made up of the water sloshing around in our bodies. When you sweat in the sauna, the only thing leaving your body is that sweat, not fat. The human body is very efficient in water use. It’s so efficient that after you sweat out that water, the body effectively just waits until you drink some more water so that it can refill the water that it spent in the sauna. So as soon as you rehydrate after the sauna, that lost weight will come right back to you.

Are Saunas Good for Losing Weight?

While saunas may not cause a person to lose weight outright, saunas are actually very good at helping people lose weight. This may be hard to believe after reading the section above but for some interesting biological reasons, saunas can actually help you lose weight as long as you make some key moves before and after your visit.

Are Saunas Good for Losing Weight?

Saunas Help You Burn Calories

Going into the sauna makes our heart rate increase. As our blood flows faster and more fully throughout the body, this also makes us burn calories more quickly. A study once found that committed and regular sauna use actually helped people lose body mass (not just water weight). When we step into the sauna, our bodies immediately start working harder just to keep our internal temperature the same. Our body working harder means that blood flows faster, the heart pumps more quickly, and, most importantly, the body’s metabolism speeds up. When our metabolism speeds up, this means that we start consuming the calories from food faster than usual. This is very similar to what happens during exercise. With this in mind, think about how much exercise you must do to lose meaningful weight. Then think about how long you would have to sauna in order to see any sauna weight loss benefits.

Weight loss only comes about after a long period of exercise and a good diet. Using the sauna alone likely isn’t going to speed your metabolism up enough to expend all of your excess calories every day, but when used in combination with a good workout, you may start seeing the results you are looking for. In addition, you get a bunch of other benefits that are good for your body anyway.

Saunas Help You Develop Muscle Mass

For a person losing weight, it may sound like increasing your muscle mass is a bad idea. But increasing your muscle mass is actually a great way to bring about weight loss. Further, spending time in the sauna is a proven way to kick up your muscle mass and overall muscle health.

Using the sauna makes the body produce more heat shock proteins which help us create more muscle mass in a shorter time. The body makes heat shock proteins as a result of spending long amounts of time in high heat, but the body will have even more places to use heat shock proteins if you recently worked out your muscles before using the sauna. Heat shock proteins bind to the natural tears in our muscles that happen after a workout and help muscles grow back fuller and more robust.

While it’s obvious why a person would want bigger muscles, having more aerated and developed muscles means that the body will start to run more efficiently overall. And as you continue to use the sauna after a good muscle workout, your body will get better and better and produce heat shock proteins. Further, muscle tissue is more porous and less dense than fat tissue. So as the body replaces fat with muscles, you won’t only lose weight but also have a more healthy overall look.

Saunas Help Steady the Body’s Insulin Level

Using the sauna regularly is also connected to normalizing a person’s insulin levels. Running eased out insulin levels also leads to better overall blood glucose levels. This is similar to the effect of sustained cardiovascular exercise. Lowering insulin levels is directly connected with fat loss. Like every other benefit in this list, the insulin level gains that come from sauna use alone with no exercise or dietary change are likely not strong enough to cause noticeable weight loss. Still, if used in combination with other known weight loss methods, it will quite possibly help!

Best Way to Lose Weight in the Sauna

If you are interested in using your sauna to help you lose weight, there are some key strategies you can use to maximize your returns.

First, be certain that you are pairing your sauna visit with an intense, sustained, and sweat-inducing workout. Whether you are going on a good run or strength training, as long as you are getting sweaty, you’re well on your way to getting the most out of your sauna weight loss plan. Be certain also to drink a lot of water during your workout, as this will help both keep your stamina up during the workout and make you sweat more.

As soon as you’ve cooled down from your workout enough that your breathing is even and calm, go right into the sauna (as long as you’ve had enough water beforehand!) and zone out for the next twenty calming minutes, or however long you are comfortable (check out our guide on how long to stay in the sauna to maximize benefits!). These twenty minutes in the sauna will do a multitude of good for your body and your weight loss potential. Your muscles will be getting doused in heat shock proteins, your heart rate will maintain a healthy and high count, and most importantly, your metabolism won’t dip back down to passive levels. Your sweating will continue, too, which will do plenty of good for your skin as well!

After your 20 minutes are up, consider this the end of your full workout. By using the sauna right after heavy exercise, you draw out your body’s metabolizing period and engage your heart rate for a longer amount of time. All around, you draw out a bit more metabolizing from the body by getting right into the sauna after a workout.

Questions About Saunas and Losing Weight

Now that we know the proven ways that saunas can help a person lose weight, let’s talk about some classic myths about saunas and weight loss. While some myths come from original points of truth, others are completely unfounded.

Can Saunas Help You Burn Fat?

If you are using the sauna to kick off a major fat loss, you may want to supplement your plans with some other good health practices. The calorie burning that comes about from only using the sauna with no extra exercise is likely not enough to cause someone to burn fat, or more specifically, not enough fat to make a change in your life or appearance. For a person to lose enough fat to change their appearance, they need to run a caloric deficit just about every day. A caloric deficit means that the body needs to burn more calories per day than are available in the food you bring in every day. The body then will start to burn your excess fat to make up for the deficit. While the sauna can help you burn more calories during the day, it’s unlikely that just using the sauna will burn enough of a person’s fat to make a visible change in their appearance.

So yes, saunas can help a person lose fat. But that will only happen if a person has burned enough calories throughout the day already to make a caloric deficit in the body. Then, the heat in the sauna may kick up a person’s metabolism enough to cause excess fat to burn.

Note on Sauna fat loss: While it may sound like losing fat is as simple as eating less food than you need every day and then jumping in the sauna, that is certainly not true. While the body technically loses weight on a calorie deficit, that doesn’t paint the complete picture of what happens in your body when that deficit comes from not eating enough food. The human body needs anywhere between 1,500 and 2,000 kcals to keep our body running smoothly. Any less than that, and you have a real danger of causing health problems. Your calorie deficit must come about from burning that 1,500-2,000 kcals through exercise and the sauna rather than not eating enough and then forcing yourself into the sauna.

How Many Calories do I Burn in the Sauna?

By spending time in the sauna, your metabolism kicks up its pace. This means that your body is burning calories faster compared to if you were just doing nothing. Specifically, scientists believe that people burn anywhere between 1.2 to 1.5 times more calories in the sauna. While there isn’t a universal number as to how many calories a person burns each time they visit the sauna, there is a consistent way you can find out for yourself. First, do some research on your BMI and find out how many calories you burn in 20 minutes when you aren’t doing anything. For the sake of example, let’s use a general average number: 40 calories. If a person burns 40 calories in 20 normal minutes, they will probably burn anywhere between 48 and 60 calories during a 20 minute sauna visit. These numbers, of course, are dependent on a person’s metabolism and current weight. But as a baseline, understand that saunas technically increase average calorie burning in the body.

As you can see, these numbers aren’t startlingly large. But if a sauna visit is paired with a workout that has already kicked up your heart rate and metabolism, think of this sauna increase as a pleasant post-workout bonus.

Can I Use a Sauna Suit to Lose Weight?

While there is a specific product called the Sauna Suit, the general idea of this suit has been around for much longer. The Sauna Suit is a full-body jumpsuit, usually lined with metal foil or other insulation material, that claims to help people lose weight simply by wearing it throughout the day. The idea is that the insulated suit will make the wearer sweat, similar to the way people sweat in traditional wood-burning saunas. Before the Sauna Suit, athletes were known to take up a similar strategy by sleeping in an insulated sleeping bag to make them sweat more overnight. So, do these suits actually work? Well, that depends on what you’re looking to get out of them. Yes, sauna suits make you sweat, but if you are looking for transformative weight loss or even anything visible, then no, sauna suits don’t work. The sauna suit is not nearly as intense or healthy an environment as an actual sauna. The heat in a sauna suit is brought about by your own internal body temperature, which can never pass 37 degrees Celsius unless you’re sick. Wood-burning saunas, on the other hand, can genuinely burn twice as hot as this.

Many of the sauna health benefits that aid weight loss only come about because the heat level in saunas is above normal human body temperature. So by simple logic, sauna suits will never be as healthy as taking a real sauna. But this doesn’t mean that sauna suits can’t help you sweat more fully and meaningfully: try wearing a sauna suit or other insulated clothes while working out. This is a great way to heat up your body faster. You will likely find both with cardiovascular exercise and muscle training, that wearing a sauna suit is a great way to kick up your overall sweat, which in turn activates your metabolism even more. So, yes, the sauna suit can help you lose weight, but only when paired with other well-known weight loss methods, namely regular sweat-inducing exercise.

Conclusions on Saunas and Weight Loss

While people in the know may sneer at the idea of saunas causing weight loss, there are indeed proven ways that the sauna can help a person lose weight. Using the sauna in combination with an engaging workout is a meaningful and unquestionable way to draw out your metabolism’s strength and burn a fair few more calories during a workout. Further, using a sauna after a workout is great for the rejuvenation of the body in general!

Healthy people who exercise and drink a lot of water have the most to gain from regular sauna use. Without exercise, don’t expect meaningful or life-changing weight loss from a sauna alone. There is no magical trick to weight loss. Just putting on a sauna suit or spending time in a sauna every day likely won’t lead to visible weight loss if that is all you change in your daily routine. Losing weight will always take hard work, but that doesn’t mean that a sauna can’t help. Spending time in the sauna is already a massive boon to your health, so if you are really looking to make a weight loss change, don’t neglect the benefits of a sauna in combination with a good workout.

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