Spark It or Scrap It: Can Saunas Help You Lose Weight?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
When it comes to saunas and steam rooms, there seem to be two types of people: Those who can’t get enough and those who can’t understand the appeal. If you fall in the latter group, you may be wondering what all the sweaty hype is about. Could sauna sessions give you a health or weight loss boost—or are the claims full of hot air? We asked some fitness experts to weigh in.
 
Do Saunas Help with Weight Loss?
 
If sitting in a hot room and sweating away the pounds seems too good to be true, that's because it most likely is. While sweating does deliver some benefits to the body, there is very limited evidence that sauna use directly aids in safe, sustained weight loss.
 
"Saunas can be a great way to relax after a workout, but they won’t be any help when it comes to reaching your weight loss goals," says SparkPeople coach Jen Mueller. "Although you will sweat more, which can lead to a loss of water weight, that weight will quickly return as soon as you rehydrate."
 
If you think using saunas as a means of rapid weight loss is a good idea, think again. The practice has been exposed as having dangerous side effects, particularly with wrestling and other weight-focused sports. "Excessive use in an attempt to achieve rapid weight loss has been shown to decrease exercise performance in almost all categories, and in combination with dehydration can lead to serious health risks," says Alexander McBrairty, NASM certified personal trainer with A-Team Fitness.
 
So if saunas don't help with weight loss, what's the appeal? Read on for the perks of perspiration.
 
Saunas & Heart Health
 
Want to reduce your chances of dying from a heart attack? Get your sweat on. “Research has linked regular sauna use with greater longevity and a lower risk of heart disease,” says Mike Matthews, bestselling fitness author and creator of MuscleForLife.com and Legion Athletics.
 
In a study of more than 2,300 men in Finland, those who underwent two to three weekly sauna sessions were 23 percent less likely to die from coronary heart disease (CHD) and 27 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease (CVD). The risk decreased to 48 percent (for CHD) and 50 percent (for CVD) when the men visited the sauna four to seven times a week.
 
Chronic Symptom Relief
 
If you suffer from a chronic disease, regular sauna use is a natural way to alleviate certain symptoms. "Research indicates that regular sauna baths can lower blood pressure in hypertensive individuals, and improve heart function in those with chronic congestive heart failure," says McBrairty. "It may also improve symptoms of asthma or bronchitis, as well as joint mobility and pain management in individuals with rheumatic disease."
 
Some research also suggests that thermal therapy—including regular sauna use—may improve insulin sensitivity, which can result in more efficient fat burning during workouts, says McBrairty.
 
Can You Sweat Away Toxins?
 
While the body has natural systems in place to cleanse itself through the digestive process, the skin also serves as a giant detoxing tool. "The skin is the largest organ in the body and a great portal for releasing built-up toxins," says fitness trainer Cheryl Russo.
 
Sweating has been shown to flush out toxic metals, including arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury. If you don’t regularly break a sweat throughout the course of the day, periodic sauna sessions could help kick-start this process (although they shouldn’t be treated as a substitute for healthy eating and regular exercise.)
 
Improved Muscle Recovery
 
Ever wonder why sitting in a sauna feels so good after a grueling workout? Franklin Antoian, one of Shape magazine's top 50 trainers in America and founder of iBodyFit.com, explains: "Heat from the sauna or steam room relaxes your muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints, increasing flexibility. As an added benefit, oxygen and nutrients are delivered to the tissues that have worked so hard during your workout, helping to repair them quicker."
 
The high temperatures also stimulate the production of growth hormones, which aid in post-exercise muscle recovery.
 
What to Know Before You Sweat
 
To stay safe and get the most out of your sauna sessions, follow these best practices:
  • In general, saunas are safe for healthy adults, pregnant women and those with stable heart conditions. That said, first-timers should start out slowly with short sessions (five to 10 minutes) and stay hydrated.
  • As with any health or fitness device, always follow the manufacturer's instructions and precautions.
  • Don't go barefoot. "Like in a shower, there is risk of getting a fungus or plantar’s warts, so wear flip-flops," advises fitness trainer Kim Schaper.
  • Avoid eating anything two hours before a sauna visit and one hour afterward, but be sure to drink plenty of water. "You need to replenish the lost fluid. Plus, the more water you consume, the more your lymphatic system continues to work to pass the toxins through the body," Schaper says.
  • Always shower after using a sauna to fully remove any residual toxins from the skin's surface, Schaper recommends.
  • Check with your doctor before incorporating sauna sessions into your regular fitness regimen, particularly if you're pregnant or have a previous heart condition.
Although saunas can help you release toxins, repair muscles and prevent heart disease risk, they're not a miracle weight loss tool. "To lose weight that will stay off permanently, stick with a healthy diet and regular exercise," Coach Jen recommends.
 
Have you ever tried a sauna or steam room? Did you notice any benefits?

Join us each month as we sift through the so-called life hacks and miracle cures to get to the bottom of the latest buzzworthy trend. Get the facts and decide for yourself if you should Spark It or Scrap It


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Comments

KATHYJO56 8/21/2018
There were things I did not know in this article. Report
KHALIA2 6/27/2018
Great info! Thank you! Report
J38850 4/10/2018
Good to know, great article! Report
SOFT_VAL67 4/10/2018
probably no more so than a diuretic, its a short term weight loss in the form of water release from the body. i love a good sauna and it is good for the health, makes you feel better, at least for me anyway. but not a tool for long term weight loss. Report
ROSSYFLOSSY 4/10/2018
Interesting. Report
STEPHLOKI 4/9/2018
Regular sauna - once a week the nordic way with 3 x 15- 20min sessions with cold showers and rest in between has always helped me reduce asthma & RA symptoms. I also get less colds. Unfortunately my current gym has no sauna Report
MUSTANGMOM6 4/9/2018
great job Report
VHAYES04 3/13/2018
Thanks Report
GGRSPARK 2/22/2018
I never liked the steam room in my last health club. My current club only has sauna, no steam in the ladies section. I fo rnjoy a few minutes there after my shower. It’s my drying room and lovely in the winter. Report
GGRSPARK 2/22/2018
I never liked the steam room in my last health club. My current club only has sauna, no steam in the ladies section. I fo rnjoy a few minutes there after my shower. It’s my drying room and lovely in the winter. Report
JOSIEPOSIES 1/29/2018
Maybe it's my Scandinavian background, because the older I get, the more I long for a sauna session. Report
MIYAMO 1/10/2018
Never did care for them. Report
They may not help you lost physical weight, but the weight of the world drops off my shoulders. Report
Growing up in Northern Minnesota I used the sauna a lot and have always loved it. Great article! Report
Love saunas (pronounced SOW na) Saunas leave you so relaxed, and squeeky clean, plus you sleep like a baby. One blogger said she didn't like it cause the heat hurt lungs....suggestion: when in sauna try breathing through a wet washcloth. Report
Love the sauna! After a sauna/steam then a shower, it's the best kind of clean.
Report
We purchased a two person infrared sauna online several years ago for $700... with free delivery. It has been problem free and we love it. So if you really want one for your home they really can be as cheap as a new sofa. It has built in speakers so you can plug in your mp3 player and listen to music while relaxing. You could save up for it without striking it rich. Report
I ve tried both but found the steam room bothered my lungs too much. Report
I am currently having knee problems, my osteoarthritis kicking into high gear in one knee. I didn't know that a sauna could help my joints. "m with JENNAAW - now I want one if I ever strike it rich! We do have a hot tub (which is rarely used in the summer months) so perhaps that could give my knee a benefit too. Report
Love the sauna! Report
LAURIENNES
I can't seem to breathe very well in a hot sauna, but I love to sit and sweat in a steam room. Put conditioner on your hair for a wonderful hair treatment. Report
I use the sauna because it helps me to not get pimples from clogged pores after a workout!!! I just go in for 10 mins post-workout and rise off... my skin has never looked better! Report
I'm one of those "don't get the appeal" people. I hate to sweat, which is why I get the majority of my exercise in the swimming pool. Locking myself up in a small room and actually forcing myself to sweat sounds like a nightmare! Report
I would absolutely love a nice home sauna room. When I was younger and in training for Triathlons, or foot races, I loved to relax in there and ease the aches and pains away. Now as I age, it would be awesome to go in and just relax and rejuvenate myself. Great article. Thanks SparkPeople... Report
If I ever strike it rich a home sauna would be the first thing I would buy! What I love most is the woodsy odor generated by the heat. It is a true luxury, and it makes my ever-sore muscles recover. I used to be in a now-defunct health club where I would use the sauna several times a week. Report