We often look for easy solutions for weight loss. Some people think that going to the sauna will help with that. This is indeed true, but things are not that straightforward. Sauna is no magic bullet to get rid of extra kilos. This article will explain how the sauna affects our body weight.
It is more than likely that we weigh less after a sauna than before
Alas, while sweating in the steam room, we mostly lost weight by losing water. Every time we go to the sauna, we lose roughly 400–600 grams of that life-giving nectar, which we must re-consume to keep our body functioning correctly. This means that weight loss from perspiration is not permanent.
Sitting and sweating in the sauna is in many ways similar to a low-intensity exercise
All is not lost, however. Sitting and sweating in the sauna is in many ways like a low-intensity exercise, like taking a hike.
High external temperature expands our blood vessels, making our heart work harder to retain sufficient blood pressure. Our pulse increases to 120 beats per minute, sometimes even 150 beats per minute. Usually, it is 60–80 beats per minute. This, of course, burns calories and helps to reduce weight.
However, sauna parties are typically places where we consume food high in calories, like chips and different meats, or drink beer and sugary beverages. If this is the case, no weight loss is unfortunately possible.
The effect of the sauna on the body is similar to low-intensity exercise, and we burn calories while doing so. However, this only reduces weight if we don’t immediately eat back the lost calories.
It has also been suggested that a rise in the body’s core temperature lowers appetite and helps lose weight
When lying in bed with a fever, we hardly want to eat anything, not to mention gorge on piles of high-calorie foods. Our appetite is curbed already when outside temperatures hit 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit). A hormonal change causes this reaction. Levels of tyrosine – the hormone that regulates appetite – in our blood shoot up every increasing degree and make us feel full even if we have not eaten much.
It has been noted that even 3 to 5-month-old babies eat less and prefer water to milk when it’s hot. This has led some scientists to argue that higher temperatures help fight extra kilos. Going to a sauna likely has a similar effect.
Going to a sauna lowers the risk of overeating by making us sleep better
If we are not well rested (fewer than 8 hours of sleep), our body starts to produce a hormone that is responsible for making us feel hungry while at the same time inhibiting the manufacturing of another hormone that makes us feel full.
If we don’t get enough sleep, we are prone to eat more than we need. A sauna extends sleep duration and increases sleep quality. After a good sauna session, we fall asleep quicker and sleep longer. In short, waking up well-rested in the morning makes us eat less and helps control body weight.
So, what to make of all these scientific links between sauna and body weight? Going to a sauna is no magic bullet. Even though we lose more calories while sweating in the sauna than sitting in front of a TV, and even though external heat may lower our appetite, we can only fight off extra kilos if we start eating properly.
Hõbepappel, Urmas; Hõbepappel, Liisa; Nellis, Silja; Nellis, Siim. Suur sauna raamat. Tartu, (manuscript)