It’s definitely chilly out there, which puts us in the mood for one of our favorite indoor activities of the season: the sauna. The hot temperatures of a good shvitz can not only take the edge off frosty weather but have been touted as an integral part of self-care all over the world.
From the Russian banya to the Swedish bastu, the sauna has been used for centuries by a number of cultures as a social activity among friends, as well as for its many health benefits. Saunas can help you relax and can even assist with athletic recovery — but can they help jump-start weight loss?
HOW IT WORKS
Saunas boast a multitude of benefits, including stress relief, helping to stave off illness, purportedly flushing toxins and heavy metals from the body and improving cardiovascular function. But besides the general “feel-good” effect of a sweat session, a sauna can help certain individuals rev their metabolism and burn calories.
According to the Harvard Medical blog, “Finnish researchers suggest that saunas may provide some cardiovascular conditioning because the high temperatures can drive heart rates to levels often achieved by moderate-intensity physical exercise.” In other words, the heat of the sauna makes your heart pump like you’re doing a bit of cardio, like a light jog.
SWEAT FOR A HEALTHIER YOU
So does this mean you can hang up those spin shoes and just hit the sauna to lose weight? Not exactly. While the metabolism does raise due to the body working hard to cool itself — by sweating — most of the weight lost after a sauna session is simply “water weight,” which is gained back once the body is properly rehydrated.
Here’s the big caveat: If you’re someone who is just starting to get into a fitness routine and has a few pounds to lose, a 2014 study suggests that you might get the most benefit out of regular sauna use, since those with a higher body mass index experienced the biggest loss of body mass in comparison to those of normal weight.
If you’re already active and don’t need to lose weight, you can still add the sauna as an adjunct to your workout routine for a bit of extra calorie burn, and a bit of passive cardiovascular conditioning.
WHAT WE’VE LEARNED
So technically, yes — sauna bathing can absolutely help someone who needs to shed some weight jumpstart the process, but the effects of the sauna on body mass will diminish as they begin to lower their BMI. And sweating alone doesn’t suggest you’re on your way to dropping pounds.
We suggest pairing regular sauna use with a healthy diet and regular exercise — both cardio and strength straining. As far as health goes, saunas seem to be a great activity for general physical and mental well-being, so anyone can take advantage of its calorie burning, heart-pumping qualities, even if weight loss isn’t the goal.