Saunas in various forms have been used around the world for centuries. There are individual saunas, family saunas, and community saunas — a great assortment of sizes, shapes, heating methods and an even greater assortment of conceived benefits.

One benefit that is often connected with the use of a sauna is weight loss and the burning of unwanted calories.

How are calories burned in a sauna?

Woman in saunaYou may have heard or read claims that you can burn 10, or as many as 33, calories per minute while you sit in a sauna; or from 600 to 1980 calories in an hour. That is a bit of an exaggeration.

Your body’s metabolism will increase while in a sauna, attempting to maintain its naturally preferred temperature. While this does increase the rate of calories burned, it is not as significant as you may hope.

How many calories?

  • Realistically, all you are doing in a sauna is sitting. On average, a 150 pound person sitting quietly burns an average of 68 calories per hour. If you are doing this sitting in a sauna, that will increase by a multiple of between 1.5 and 2. That equates to between 102 and 136 calories burned in one hour.
    You can increase the number of calories burned in a sauna by performing light exercises
  • Something as simple as alternating between standing and sitting will not only help burn additional calories, but will alleviate boredom and keep you awake.
  • Studies have shown the use of saunas improve a person’s mood, reduces stress and aids in relaxation. These heightened states appear to have a direct relation to increased work-out and exercise routines; and this does burn additional calories. A 2007 study reported in the “Journal of Sports Science and Medicine” focused on runners and found post-exercise saunas improved running endurance. With longer runs, the amount of fat burned increased and weight loss resulted. The conclusion of this study pinpointed an increase in blood volume as a factor in the endurance factor.
  • With an increase in exercise may come an increase in sore or fatigued muscles, and an after-work out sauna improves circulation and speeds muscle recovery. Some training coaches recommend a sauna both before and after a workout, increasing the number of calories burned and soothing stressed muscles.

How is fat burned away?

Sauna in your homeTruthfully – no fat is burned away in a sauna. The only substance your body will actually lose is water from use of a typical sauna. Some studies have indicated far-infrared saunas are slightly more effective at reducing fat in your body.

With far-infrared saunas, these studies found decreased oxidative stress, increased immune functions and nitric oxide. Additionally, a reduction in body fat was observed after several months of far-infrared sauna use.

How is weight loss achieved?

You will probably notice your scale showing you have lost some weight after a sauna session, however that weight reduction is purely a loss of water. And it is potentially an unhealthy weight loss.

If you are not properly rehydrating your body as you sit in a sauna, you could find yourself experiencing the symptoms and problems of dehydration.

How is dehydration a problem?

Dehydration — even mild cases — can cause headaches, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, dizziness and/or fainting, swollen tongue, heart palpitations and darker mood changes.

Sauna with stonesAdditionally, if you do not properly rehydrate your body, your blood may thicken and allow blood clots to form. The dangers of dehydration are increased for people living at high altitudes, people with chronic illnesses, and older adults.

Water alone will not sufficiently rehydrate your body, but it is a very good place to start. Remember to drink water slowly to avoid upsetting your stomach. Also, if you drink a lot of water too quickly, a large portion of it will simply pass through your system and be eliminated as urine.

How else is weight lost in a sauna?

Sitting in a sauna and sweating will also work to remove a small amount of salt from your body. When you have excessive salt in your system, you will experience fluid retention. Some of that fluid will form under your skin and sweating away some of that fluid will also remove this salt. The accumulation of this salty fluid may obscure the definition of your muscles, and you may find yourself looking more “cut” after time in a sauna. However, salt — sodium — is an electrolyte your body needs for survival and if you sweat away too much your system may develop an electrolyte imbalance.

How is an electrolyte imbalance a problem?

An imbalance of your body’s electrolyte level can cause some serious problems, including swelling of the brain, heart arrhythmia, shock, hyponytremia (with symptoms similar to dehydration) and hypocalcemia (with symptoms such as numbness in hands and feet or seizures).

It is important to replace the electrolytes your body lost while sweating in a sauna, as well as replacing the lost water. Sodium and potassium are the most essential electrolytes needed to rehydrate your system. Eating fruit and vegetables with a small amount of salt is a good way to properly rehydrate your body.

Sports drinks and beverages specifically formulated for fluid replacement are other good rehydration sources. However, many sports drinks are also high in sugar content. You must drink more than the total amount of fluid you have lost – approximately twice the amount of fluid sweated away. (This formula allows for fluid lost through urine).

How is sauna weight loss beneficial?

If you need to quickly lose a few pounds to fit into that sexy little black dress, or that stunning tuxedo, an hour or so in a sauna may do the trick. However, if you do not replenish the water your body has lost you may feel — and look — terrible. Just because you fit into that dress or tux doesn’t guarantee you will look good wearing it.

How else?

  • The realistic weight-loss benefits from a sauna are more gradual and indirect, according to Dr. Tim Jackson of the NeuroSensory Center of Charlotte located in Huntersville, NC. Jackson explains there is a detoxification factor that accompanies sweating in a sauna.
  • Sauna for health“Because your sweat is made from lymphatic fluid, increased sweating allows the body to rid itself of unwanted toxins that may be lodged in the lymphatic system,” Jackson said. “Eliminating heavy metals and other toxins supports your body in burning fat, because those foreign molecules are not longer interfering with your metabolism.”
  • Jackson also suggests a sauna is good for soothing the sympathetic nervous system; reducing stress and possibly lowering cortisol in the body. This is a hormone that leads to insulin resistance and fat gain when it reaches elevated levels.

How are saunas beneficial for more than weight loss?

  • Columbia University’s Health Question and Answer column,Go Ask Alice!, reported the high temperature of a sauna dilates your blood vessels, thereby temporarily lowering your pulse and blood pressure. Saunas should not be considered as a replacement for prescribed medication for high blood pressure (hypertension).
  • The high heat of a sauna will help to soothe and loosen any tight, sore muscles.
  • A relaxed body will also help to relax your mind and will help reduce your stress. Some studies report the release of endorphins is triggered by time spent in a sauna. Endorphins are known as natural “feel-good” chemicals produced by your body.
  • Many regular sauna users also report better sleep at night.
    As your body cools down after you finish a session in the sauna, your system produces increased amounts of melatonin, which allows to you sleep deeper and awaken more rested
  • A sauna may help when you have plugged sinuses, bronchitis or chest congestion. Respiratory relief is often reported after a session in a sauna. You might also consider using a sauna as a method for fighting a cold or the flu. When your body’s core temperature increases, your systems think you have a fever and produce more white blood cells, which in turn fight germs and bacteria.
  • When you warm your body in a sauna, your blood vessels will widen, which will improve your circulation. This helps to more efficiently transport oxygen and nutrients in your blood and throughout your systems.
  • Sauna help you lose weightSweating in a sauna will help remove many toxins and bacteria from your body, which will cleanse your pores and leave your skin silky and smooth. A sauna will also help remove dead skin cells, improve your skin’s elasticity, relax tension in your face and many people claim a sauna gives them a year-round “tanned at the beach” glow.
  • While you are sitting in a sauna, consider lightly brushing the skin on your legs, arms and belly – and on your back if possible. (If you can’t reach your own back, ask a fellow sauna sitter to assist.) Brushing your skin will stimulate the pores, encouraging them to open wider. This will not only increase your circulation at the surface, but will allow toxins to leave your body more easily.

How can I safely use a sauna?

  • Don’t mix saunas with alcohol or drugs. This interaction may reduce your body’s ability to properly handle the high heat and any side effects from your lowered blood pressure. Start slowly and limit your first time to a maximum of 20 minutes. As your body gets acclimated, you can gradually increase the time. Starting out with a marathon session can be dangerous. It is recommended not to be alone for your first sauna session, in case of any unexpected reactions.
  • Drink water before and after your sauna session to prevent dehydration. If you re-hydrate your body with something other than water, you may find you have not only gained back the lost water weight, but additional weight in the form of fat.
  • Limit or avoid using a sauna if you are pregnant, have diagnosed heart problems, have blood pressure that is either very high or very low, or if you are more than 65 years old. Never allow children to use saunas without supervision.
  • Allow your body to return to a normal temperature slowly. You will place unnecessary stress on your heart if you go straight from a sauna to a cold shower. The only muscle in your body that gets a workout in the sauna is your heart, so it is important not to add undue stress to that vital organ.
  • Get out of the sauna immediately if you notice chills, headaches, nausea, dizziness or any other uncomfortable symptoms. This is your body warning you that you are overdoing your use of a sauna.

People have enjoyed the use of saunas for thousands of years. In some areas, saunas use dry heat; others use a wet steam heat. In some regions these heated therapy chambers are called sweat lodges, or sweat baths, even exotic sounding names such as the Korean jjim jjil and the South American temezcal.

Mens in saunaNo matter the name, saunas are used around the world for their multitude of health benefits. Yes, some calories will be lost while sitting in a sauna. Additionally, your body will sweat away many of the toxins in your skin, your immune system will receive a boost, your mood will improve, and typically you will feel relaxed and calm at the end of your session.

Some people report feeling energized and a sharpening of senses, especially a heightening of the sense of touch. Others report they feel their depression and anxiety are greatly reduced. Many people consider a sauna a place for camaraderie and social gatherings.

The use of a sauna can be both relaxing and beneficial for a variety of reasons. Keep in mind a few essential tips and sit back and unwind as the sweat and a few calories drip away.

Saunas have been enjoyed for centuries for their many benefits, both physical and mental. Among these benefits you will find weight loss, an improvement in mood, body detoxification, reduced stress, muscle relaxation, improved circulation and an over-all feeling of calmness.