Sitting in a hot and crowded wooden room may be relaxing, although slightly uncomfortable, but could a sauna actually help you lose weight?
Saunas have been around for thousands of years, thanks to the Finnish, and are often viewed as a weight loss tool. Despite their long history, there’s no scientific data indicating saunas help with weight loss, says Rita Redberg, M.D., a practicing cardiologist in San Francisco, California, who has written about sauna bathing. However, she still highly recommends saunas for other reasons.
A small study published in JAMA Internal Medicine on middle-aged Finnish men found that men who frequented the sauna lived longer than those who used it less, but it is unclear why.
“It is not known if the health benefits associated with sauna use are from the physiological effects of the sauna itself, or just the act of taking the time to relax, as one must do in a sauna, or the camaraderie of the sauna, especially in Finland, where it is often a family activity,” says Dr. Redberg, who tried Finnish saunas on a recent trip to Helsinki, the capital of Finland.
Saunas are typically set to at least degrees Fahrenheit, but the ones Dr. Redberg tried in Helsinki, were much hotter, she notes.
Although in-home saunas are less common in the U.S. than Finland, many gyms and spas in the U.S. have them. Before you use one though, there’s a couple of things you should know.
Saunas are not a weight loss solution.
“It is definitely a myth that sitting in a sauna leads to meaningful and long term weight loss, because the weight you lose in a sauna is water weight,” explains Mike Sevilla, M.D., a practicing family physician in Salem, Ohio, who frequently gets questions from patients about using saunas. “Some or all of this weight loss goes away when you rehydrate yourself following the sauna session.”
You need to hydrate properly.
Drinking a lot of water before and after using a sauna is a must, says Dr. Redberg.
The main danger of using a sauna is the possibility of becoming severely dehydrated. This can happen from sitting for too long andor the temperature becomes too warm.
“Signs and symptoms of severe dehydration include dry mouth, excessive thirst, and dizziness or lightheadedness,” says Dr. Sevilla. “If you notice any of those symptoms starting to happen, exit immediately and rehydrate yourself.”
To avoid dehydration and its complications, Dr. Sevilla recommends using the sauna for – minutes at a time. And, if you have a history of heart problems, it’s best to check with your family physician before using one.
Janissa Delzo is a freelance health writer whose work has been published by outlets including CNN, Newsweek, Everyday Health and Teen Vogue.