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Is the Sauna Good for Losing Belly Fat? Or Another Gym Rumor?

Weight Loss & Diets | Written by Nathan | Updated on 7 February 2022

One study proved that sauna use helped overweight men achieve a significant reduction in body mass (0.65 kg) and burn more calories, but there was no change in fat composition [1].

So why exactly did they lose weight, but not fat? Are saunas good for losing belly fat or is it just another gym rumor?  

Do Saunas Burn Belly Fat?

There’s no denying it – there is a little bit of weight loss happening in the sauna, but most of it comes down to flushing out fluids, although there are some indirect benefits as well. Any immediate weight loss that occurs in a sauna is just water weight loss. As soon as someone rehydrates, they return to the same weight they were before they walked into the sauna other than being sweaty and burning a few extra calories.

According to Harvard Medical School, the average person loses about 1 point of fluid after just minutes in a sauna, so it’s important to hydrate before, during, and after to avoid dehydration [2]. So, sitting in a sauna can help someone lose weight in a few hours, but the effects are temporary, and the practice can be dangerous for overweight individuals [1]. 

Which leads us to wonder, where did this nonsense come from?

How The Saunas & Weight Loss Rumor Came About

Many people are led to believe that sitting in the sauna will lead to a higher heart rate and, therefore, more calories burned. To be fair, the average person will burn more calories while sitting in a sauna than they would while sitting on the couch, but the effect is very small and will not have an impact on weight loss or belly fat. 

While a person might not lose weight in the sauna immediately, they may see some changes in their body since the heat exposure can raise internal body temperature and detox the body, which can have indirect effects on weight loss.

Indirect Weight Loss Benefits of Saunas

Although the sauna is not good for losing belly fat, it does have plenty of other benefits. Not only is it a relaxing way to end a workout, but it can also improve overall health and help weight loss just a little.

Whole Body Detoxification: Steam rooms and saunas open up the pores and allow the body to flush out toxins [3]. Through this process, inflammation in the body decreases, and the body can function to its best ability. This can help someone be less sedentary, less stressed, and lose weight faster.

Speeds Up Metabolism: Twice-weekly sauna sessions can speed up the metabolism by over 30% [4]! When the body is exposed to intense heat or cold, it has to work harder, increasing the heart rate by up to 30% [5]. A higher heart rate means a faster metabolism and more calories burned, which is why some people participate in hot yoga. Working out in cold conditions will evoke a similar response. While the calories burned during a sauna session are barely more than sitting at a desk, it may be worth adding some sauna sessions into an already-healthy lifestyle.

Lowers Stress Levels: Studies show that the majority of people who are struggling with losing weight are under great stress, which keeps them in “fight or flight” mode all the time. When the sympathetic nervous system is always in high gear, the body holds on more tightly to fat in order to protect itself [6].

Spending time in the sauna can be therapeutic. When individuals release stress, they may also be more likely to release unwanted pounds. Any anti-stress routines, like a hot bath, essential oils, or massage, can help you lose weight.

Improves Overall Health: Studies indicate that frequent sauna use might improve a person’s cholesterol levels and cardiovascular health [7]. Better cardiovascular health can help a person feel better and therefore move more and lose more weight.

Greater Comfort and Mobility: Researchers found that visiting a sauna can significantly reduce stiffness, notably for people suffering from health concerns like arthritis [8]. Fatiguing health conditions like arthritis can have an impact on a person’s ability to lose weight. With more mobility, more weight loss will follow.

May Improve Respiratory Function: Steam loosens up the nasal passages and improves breathing. Better breathing may result in greater endurance during walking and exercise, and more comfort when breathing deeply during sleep. 

Faster Recovery: Sore muscles can keep people on the couch and far away from the gym. One study suggested that taking a steam bath or visiting the sauna after a workout increases blood flow throughout the body, which will alleviate muscle soreness and help people get back to the gym sooner [9].

Better Performance and Endurance: Muscle strength and power seem to increase with sauna use. These benefits can turn up in the gym. The sauna may help someone lift heavier weights or run a little longer, resulting in weight loss over time. One study followed six long-distance runners who attended twelve 30-minute sauna sessions. All six runners showed higher blood and plasma volumes after their sauna sessions, as well as increased fortitude – their time to exhaustion increased by a full 32% [10]!

Imagine what a little more energy could do for you – you might have enough to enhance your current cardio routine or embark on a new weight lifting routine with a beginner’s guide to strength training.

So, is using a sauna good for weight loss? Not by itself, but due to all of these potential benefits, it may be worth experimenting with sauna use. Some may even see weight loss by pairing sauna use with a healthy diet and exercise routine. It is best to sit in the sauna consistently during the experiment.

Just remember – sauna or steam therapy for more than 20 minutes can lead to dehydration and hyperthermia, especially in people who are overweight, so it is essential to listen to one’s body and hydrate diligently. Avoid drinking alcohol before and after sitting in the sauna and keep the session short.

Saunas vs. Steam Room for Weight Loss

When considering if the sauna is good for losing belly fat, one might also ask if a sauna or steam room would be more productive in terms of weight loss.

On one hand, using a steam room encourages lots of sweating, which will release more bodily toxins. On the other hand, the sauna creates a dry heat, which makes the heart pump quickly as if one is exercising.

If weight loss is the primary goal, an infrared sauna may be the answer. This wood-constructed sauna uses infrared rays to penetrate deeply into the body. It may increase the metabolic rate by 1.5 times, which is more than a steam room could do. 

An infrared sauna also has other benefits, like avoiding the bacteria that might lurk in a wet steam room environment. However, the sauna does not have the same hydrating benefits as a steam room. Remember, when it comes to weight loss, everybody is different, and experimentation may be required to see if a steam room or a sauna has greater benefits for each individual.

Conclusion

It is unlikely that the sauna alone is good for losing belly fat, and results will be minimal at best. For the most part, sauna weight loss is just another gym rumor. However, because of potential benefits (like body detoxification and reduced stress), some people choose to combine sauna use with proper diet and exercise. Instead of relying on a miracle method to slim down in 10 days, eat healthily and exercise to get fit the right way.

References

[1] Podstawski, R., Borysławski, K., Clark, C. C. T., Choszcz, D., Finn, K. J., & Gronek, P. (2019). Correlations between Repeated Use of Dry Sauna for 4 x 10 Minutes, Physiological Parameters, Anthropometric Features, and Body Composition in Young Sedentary and Overweight Men: Health Implications. BioMed Research International2019, 1–13. https://doi.org/10.1155/2019/7535140

[2] Harvard Health. (2020b, May 14). Sauna Health Benefits: Are saunas healthy or harmful? Retrieved January 26, 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/saunas-and-your-health

[3] Maybhate, C. “Skin Care for Acne-Prone Skin.” Ayurveda Holistic Community (2005): 1-5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279208/

[4] Leppäluoto, J., et al. “Some cardiovascular and metabolic effects of repeated sauna bathing.” Acta physiologica scandinavica 128.1 (1986): 77-81. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3766176

[5] Braian M, B., Camila, C., Antonella De, V. and Carlos G, M. (2018). Human Physiology in Extreme Heat and Cold. International Archives of Clinical Physiology, [online] 1(1). Available at: https://clinmedjournals.org/articles/iacph/international-archives-of-clinical-physiology-iacph-1-001.php [Accessed 24 Jul. 2021]. 

[6] Goldstein, D.S. (2010). Adrenal Responses to Stress. Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology, [online] 30(8), pp.1433–1440. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3056281/ [Accessed 24 Jul. 2021].

[7] Vuori, I. “Sauna bather’s circulation.” Annals of clinical research 20.4 (1988): 249-256. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3218896 

[8] Oosterveld, Fredrikus GJ, et al. “Infrared sauna in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.” Clinical rheumatology 28.1 (2009): 29. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18685882

[9] Petrofsky, Jerrold, et al. “Moist heat or dry heat for delayed onset muscle soreness.” Journal of clinical medicine research 5.6 (2013): 416. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3808259/

[10] Scoon, G. S., Hopkins, W. G., Mayhew, S., & Cotter, J. D. (2007). Effect of post-exercise sauna bathing on the endurance performance of competitive male runners. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport10(4), 259–262. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2006.06.009

About the Author

Nathan

Nathan has been a fitness enthusiast for the past 12 years and jumps between several types of training such as bodybuilding, powerlifting, cycling, gymnastics, and backcountry hiking. Due to the varying caloric needs of numerous sports, he has cycled between all types of diets and currently eats a whole food diet. In addition, Nathan lives with several injuries such as hip impingement, spondylolisthesis, and scoliosis, so he underwent self-rehabilitation and no longer lives with debilitating pain.