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July 20, 2023
Sitting in a sauna is a form of ultimate relaxation. You get in wearing next to nothing (or nothing at all!), sit down with no external distractions, and sweat your ass off.
It's been a tradition passed down for centuries, starting with the Nordic people. Some estimates place the first sauna-like room existing around 7,000 BC! Throughout this long history, there have been more than a handful of medicinal benefits attributed to sitting in a hotbox, everything from improved recovery to detoxification.
But what about saunas and weight loss? That's what we'll get into today, as we discuss the use of a sauna for losing belly fat and whether it actually works.
Table of Contents:
Saunas are a type of heat therapy, and the term "sauna" can conjure up a bunch of visuals depending on who hears it. So, let's begin by reviewing the different types of saunas to identify their similarities and differences.
Steam baths are enclosed rooms that use steam to help fill the room with wet heat. As a person sits inside, the steam raises the room's temperature, providing that sauna-like effect.
To explore the differences between sauna bathing and sitting in a steam room, check out our article Saunas vs. Steam Rooms: Is One Better For Muscle Recovery?
Infrared saunas use direct heat from infrared light to warm the person inside. This is in contrast to heating up the surrounding air, as with a steam bath. As such, the user will still experience raised body temperature, but it will generally be to a lesser degree than other methods.
For those interested in the infrared sauna option, an even more convenient option is an infrared sauna blanket. To learn more, head to our article on the 9 Best Infrared Sauna Blankets.
The most traditional version, wood-burning saunas are what most people think of when they hear sauna.
These enclosed rooms, usually made of wood, contain a bucket of hot rocks over which the user pours water to generate steam. This steam then fills the room and increases body temperature.
Electrical saunas are similar to traditional steam saunas in construction and look. However, an electrical sauna uses electricity to heat the room. Rocks can also be placed on the heater for humidity control, but they're not used for steam.
We discuss two main sauna types, infrared and traditional, in more detail in our article: Infrared Sauna vs Traditional Sauna: Which Is Best?
The sauna has a lot of great benefits backed by science. For example, regular sauna use has been found to provide cardiovascular health benefits and even treat conditions such as peripheral flow-mediated dilation¹.
The evidence is unclear or often misunderstood for weight loss due to the potential of losing water weight. Using a sauna will cause you to sweat profusely, emptying water from your cells and ultimately producing a lower number on the scale. However, this is temporary weight loss and will not last.
For example, it's common for athletes to drop multiple pounds from water weight after a particularly sweating training session only to gain it back after rehydration. It's not fat loss but simply sweat causing the numbers on the scale to go down.
At the same time, some studies have seen a positive influence on calorie expenditure and overall improvements in BMI². For example, this study saw improvements after just four 10-minute exposures.
Similar results were repeated in another study from 2018 with a correlation between larger body surface area and body mass³. In other words, larger people lost more weight. As most participants were obese and sedentary in both studies, measurable benefits may only apply to these populations. Extreme heat can be enough to alter the physiological systems of those who never tax them, but for others, it may not be enough stimulation.
Some studies suggest that resting in high temperatures raises your metabolic rate by 20%, while others suggest even higher. While this seems great, it's actually not that much. Since you only sit in a sauna for about 10 minutes, the limited exposure makes it very difficult to lose belly fat in any meaningful way.
One Reddit user summed it up best when they said:
"Might sweat out a bit of water weight but you wont lose weight just by sitting around sweating. My ritual is jumping in and out of the cold lake between burns, and I think the fluctuation from hot to cold, might boost metabolic (sic) rates, but at the end of the day... diet and exercise result in weight loss... can't just sit in a warm room to get 6 pack abs unfortunately." (source)
When it comes to explicitly buying belly fat, the answer is going to be no.
This is mainly because it is extremely difficult to choose where you lose fat first. This is 100% genetic, and some people hold different weight in different areas. Depending on your body type, some people tend to gain weight in certain body parts before others, and the same holds true for weight loss.
Unfortunately, belly fat is generally the first sign of weight gain for many people, so it's usually the last place to lose weight.
If you still want to go ahead and use the sauna for weight loss, there are two key tips that can make it more effective.
Be sure to drink a lot of water. Keep in mind that water weight loss isn't really weight loss. Therefore, you shouldn't be concerned about drinking too much, as staying hydrated could help you stay in a sauna longer and more comfortably, leading to more substantial effects.
One interesting tactic is using an infrared sauna blanket, which are portable blankets that allow you to cover yourself and heat up your body.
When discussing sauna blanket benefits, a positive is that because the temperature isn't so extreme, you can stay under it longer than you could sit in a sauna. It's also portable and really convenient, so you can easily go about your day and watch a movie or read a book.
To experience the benefits of a sauna in your own home, check out these 9 Best Infrared Sauna Blankets to find the best fit for you. I like the Heat Healer Infrared Sauna Blanket as it is easy to use, clean, and store, all while helping your mind relax and your body burn extra calories.
Using the sauna for weight control can be a hazardous method, especially when being used for fast weight loss. In fact, when the sauna is used incorrectly, even death is a possibility. Granted, this generally happens in fight sports as athletes try to lose water weight to "make weight" before a fight, but it can happen.
Humans generally try to push the envelope, especially regarding fitness, so assuming people will push too hard in the sauna is not a stretch. Use the sauna for its health benefits and even to support your weight loss goals, but don't push it to the point where it's dangerous.
While relying on a sauna for weight loss might not be the most effective method, there are plenty of other great ways to help you lose weight. Here are some to help get you started.
Sleep is perhaps the easiest way to help aid weight loss. While sleeping won't cause fat loss directly, it can have remarkable effects on the body that facilitate metabolism, activity, and diet management.
Multiple studies have shown that lack of sleep can dramatically affect weight loss through several mechanisms⁴. For one, people lacking sleep will be lethargic and less active during the day, burning fewer calories.
In addition, a person with inadequate sleep will have issues with their diet. Not only will they eat more calories, but they also tend to crave more processed foods. Eating a larger quantity of high-calorie foods is obviously not ideal for weight loss.
You can even combine the best of both worlds and lose weight while sleeping. Check out our article 7 Easy Ways To Burn Fat While You Sleep for some great tips!
It should be obvious, but alongside calorie control, regular exercise is necessary for weight loss.
Getting up and moving in any capacity is going to increase your calories burned which is ultimately going to be what helps you lose body fat. However, exercise isn't a "one-and-done" thing. Consistency is the key to successful weight loss and will always trump any single session.
That said, having a handful of really awesome fat-burning workouts is always a good idea. Don't worry - we got your back.
Along with your exercise, a natural diet is a must. Figure that a slice of pizza easily has 200+ calories. Heck, even a banana can have 100 calories! It's much easier to control the food you put in your mouth than to try to burn off calories, so following a sound diet is always your number one rule for losing weight.
I'm a huge fan of the 80/20 Rule Diet. It's a great form of flexible dieting that uses a straightforward concept yet brings huge results.
Now we'll get into some of the most common questions concerning saunas.
Neither should be used for weight loss, but in certain inactive populations, saunas have been shown to increase calorie expenditure.
Some examples have shown as much as 1 pound of water weight can be lost in one setting.
Your time in a sauna should not be based on weight loss but on safety. That said, 10 minutes is the average recommendation.
The best guess is 1.2 to 1.5 times the amount you burn while just sitting.
Yes, repeated sauna bathing is okay if you keep your exposure time to a minimum.
It could temporarily increase calorie expenditure in those with very low metabolism or sedentary people. However, there are much better, evidenced-based ways to improve your metabolism, such as following a workout split, metabolic conditioning, and even regular walking.
You can use a sauna anytime, but stay aware of your body temperature and drink lots of fluids when doing so around a workout. The combination of elevated body temperature and dehydration from both exercise and a sauna can be dangerous.
No. While saunas can increase heart rate, blood flow, and body temperature, saunas should not be counted as exercise. This is especially true if you're using the sauna as an excuse to skip the gym.
When used appropriately and safely, a sauna can be an added regiment to include your weight loss efforts. You should always use it in combination with a healthy diet and exercise and never rely on it solely to hit your fat loss goals.
Sauna bathing definitely packs quite a few health benefits. It may help lower blood pressure and even potentially improve your cardiovascular health. And as I just discussed, the sauna can even benefit your fat loss goals.
However, considering the tiny boost in metabolic rate and the short time you can sit in a sauna bath, it's not a fat-burning machine. If you truly want to lose belly fat, focus on your diet and exercise, and think of saunas as an added bonus for boosting your weight loss efforts.
Ready to burn fat while using the sauna? Check out the 9 Best Infrared Sauna Blankets to lose weight in the comfort of your own home!
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