Saunas & Weight Loss: What the Science Has to Say – Greatist
Relaxing in a sauna can help you lose some weight — but it’s not a miracle weight loss solution. That’s because losing weight from a sauna sesh is likely more short-lived than a viral TikTok.
On the simplest level, weight loss happens when your body expends more energy than it consumes. And amid steamy temps in a sauna, your body works harder to stay cool, so it burns more calories. You’ll lose a few pounds of water weight from all that sweat dripping down your bod. But once you rehydrate, you’ll probably gain it all back.
So, if you want to sustainably lose weight, it’s not as easy as sweating in a sauna. Healthy weight loss results still require the OGs exercise and a balanced diet.
But here’s what the science says.
Losing water weight is the most notable form of weight loss from hopping in the sauna. And it’s an effect often used by boxers, wrestlers, and MMA fighters to drop numbers on the scale fast.
It’s def not rocket science: Since the heat makes you sweat, you’ll lose excess water stored in your bod. As a result, water loss from a single sauna sesh can help you lose a couple pounds.
But there’s a catch. Once you do rehydrate, the weight will come right back. And inadequately rehydrating can lead to complications from dehydration.
So, please knock back that water bottle! Your organs will thank you.
Much like hot yoga verses regular yoga, sitting in a hot room really does burn more calories than sitting in a regular temp room.
According to 2018 research, your body has to work a lot harder to stay cool in the heat (or ice-cold), which can cause your heart rate to increase up to 30 percent. This can temporarily boost your metabolism and lead to increased calorie burn.
Keyword: temporarily. This calorie-burning effect will fade within a few hours, along with the benefits.
If nothing else, sauna time might help you relax (self-care FTW), which might counteract weight gain brought on by stress.
Research has linked stress to binge eating and weight gain, as well as a slower metabolism. So, in theory, treating yourself to some relaxation via a sauna sesh might help deplete stress levels and result in weight loss.
Saunas in particular can help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, similar to the effects of exercise. And who doesn’t love that floaty, blissed out feeling after a sweat sesh?
Just note: We still need more research to understand exactly how sauna’s relaxation effects translate to stress levels and weight loss.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), losing weigh at a rate of about 1 to 2 pounds per week is healthier *and* more sustainable than doing so at a quicker rate.
So, take it easy and skip out on fads with grandiose claims — we’re looking at you, weight loss lollipops and snake diets. (And, yes, saunas.)
A sauna is generally defined by a room that’s heated to temps between 150 and 195ºF (66 and 91ºC). They can vary a lot depending on the style: Finnish-style saunas are dry heat, for instance, while Turkish bath houses are super steamy.
As long as they’re heated within this range, though, they should have similar effects when it comes to calorie burn, water weight loss, and increased heart rate.
So, whether it’s wood-burning, electrically-heated, infrared, or a steam room, they’ll have similar weight loss effects.
News flash (or should we say heat flash?): Because high heat makes your body sweat and lose water weight, you can get super dehydrated.
A small 2019 study showed that sweating causes folks to lose about 1 pint of fluid. And extreme conditions — like a dry sauna competition — could lead a person to lose up to 13 liters of fluid.
Severe dehydration is a medical emergency. So, if you notice any of the following, get medical attention right away:
High heat causes your heart rate to rise, and these fiery temps also cause your blood vessels to dilate and move closer to the skin’s surface. When these blood vessels expand, your circulation gets better and your blood pressure lowers.
Generally, this is a good thing for heart health. But if you have a heart condition, these changes could lead to potential health risks. Because of this effect, docs usually advise folks with irregular heart rate or a recent heart attack to avoid saunas.
And even though docs usually give people with high blood pressure the green light to use saunas, the American Heart Association warns against moving between extreme hot and cold temps because it can further raise your blood pressure.
The following at-risk groups may want to avoid the sauna (or at least check with your doc first):
Using a sauna safely pretty much means avoiding dehydration and skipping the sauna if you’re in an at-risk group. With that in mind, here’s how to safely sweat on your next sauna visit:
There’s no evidence that sitting in a sauna will help target belly fat specifically. TBH, targeted fat loss isn’t a thing, anyway.
What saunas *can* do is temporarily boost heart rate, calorie burn, and water loss while reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, which might contribute to a healthier body and weight overall.
But much like super suspicious weight loss teas and “DROP WEIGHT FAST” gimmicks, the sauna is not a miracle fat loss remedy.
To avoid dehydration and a serious toll on your body, experts recommend you hop out of the sauna after 15 to 20 mins. Again, sauna use isn’t going to offer long-term weight loss.
You’ll need to implement other healthy habits into your routine like exercise and nutrition to lose weight.
How many calories you burn in the sauna will depend on your unique body and how much energy you use while sweating it out.
Your heart rate can increase by about 30 percent while in the sauna, which can lead to an increased calorie burn. But in terms of nailing down exact numbers, the science just isn’t there yet.
You might lose a couple pounds of water weight after using a sauna, but you’ll gain that weight back after downing some H2O. According to a 2014 study, people who weigh more tend to lose more water weight after time in a sauna.
But in terms of saunas and long-term weight loss, it’s not going to get the job done.
Saunas can help lose water weight, but you’ll gain it back after rehydrating. Higher temps do cause a temporary increased heart rate and calorie burn, though — but it’s prob not dramatic enough to contribute to long-term weight loss.
As long as you use a sauna safely (hydrate up and for less than 20 mins), it could be a part of a healthy weight loss routine alongside a balanced diet and regular exercise. Since saunas reduce inflammation and can be relaxing, you might also experience some general health benefits that can help you reach your fitness goals.
Last medically reviewed on April 22, 2022