Spending time in a sauna can be good, but it can also cause a little pain; after all, if the weather outside was the same as the temperature in a sauna, you would probably want to hide in the air conditioning all day. There is something about unpleasant bodily experiences that makes us think they must be good for us somehow, and so the sauna has gained a healthy reputation that it does not fully deserve. Here is an overview of what a sauna can and cannot do for you.
Saunas don’t burn fat
It’s technically true that you can lose weight by sitting in a sauna, but it’s not because your body is burning fat; it’s because you sweat, and sweat is made of water, and water weighs something. As soon as you rehydrate, which you should do, the scale will return to where it started.
After all, as we discussed as part of the exercise, sweating doesn’t mean you’ve had a good workout or burned calories. It just means you were hot.
People who sell saunas and sauna services like to talk about their calorie-burning benefits, but there is no evidence to suggest. you burn a lot more calories sitting in a warm room than you would sitting on your couch at home. Some more skeptical websites cite a modest figure of 1.5 to 2 times the calories you would burn sitting at room temperature, but without a quote. If that’s true, that’s pretty much the same as the difference between sitting and standing, so you can skip that trip to the sauna and spend half an hour on your feet.
Saunas don’t ‘detoxify’ you
It’s 2021 and we as a society should be done this “detox” concept, which has been debunked time and time again. Ordinary annoyances like fatigue sometimes are not due to secret toxins that constantly poison you, and even if you do have health problems due to toxins you should see a doctor and not expect smoothies or saunas to cure you.
Saunas are not a substitute for exercise
Saunas and exercise both heat your body and make you sweat, but there aren’t many similarities apart from that. Remember that exercise makes us stronger and improves our cardiovascular endurance (we VO2max, for example). Sweating in a warm room doesn’t do that.
same this summary from an exercise science researcher, which draws parallels between running and sitting in a sauna in its title, includes the following disclaimer:
Before you consider canceling your gym membership and investing the savings in a hot tub, be aware that regular saunas or baths cannot duplicate all the health benefits of exercise training, such as promote fat loss and increase muscle mass. The use of hot baths or saunas should not be considered a substitute for exercise.
Saunas can be good for your blood vessels
What this researcher Is Note, after the warning, that there are a few lesser-known benefits of exercise that seem to be related to increased body heat and heart rate, rather than the more obvious strain on our lungs or our muscles.
As your body temperature rises, the blood vessels near the surface of your skin dilate (widen) and this process can help cells grow and repair. In other words, just raising your body temperature can be good for your blood vessels, which we don’t normally think of, but healthy blood vessels are part of a healthy cardiovascular system.
Relaxation is real
If you find saunas relaxing – and many of us do – this can be a health benefit in itself. This is not as concrete a benefit as it is sometimes claimed; you are not going to cure your depression or reverse your heart disease just by relaxing in a sauna every now and then. But if you enjoy your sauna sessions, they could definitely help reduce your stress levels and improve your mental health. Pro tip: one hot bath can have many of these effects too, and at a lower cost.
Heat has its advantages and disadvantages
For other medical conditions and athletic uses, the pros and cons of a sauna boil down to the pros and cons of the heat itself. If you have sore muscles, the heat is often good, so athletes often enjoy sauna sessions.
Some skin conditions respond well to the dry air of a sauna, while others can be exacerbated by the dry air but might feel better with the humid air of a steam room. Use common sense and check with your doctor if you want to use a sauna to manage a health problem.
Saunas carry risks, too much
If we are talking about health benefits, it is only fair to discuss the risks as well. Saunas are reasonably safe, but people with medical conditions are often advised to stay away or speak to a doctor before deciding to spend time in a sauna. This may include you if you are pregnant, if you have abnormally high or low blood pressure, if you have epilepsy, or if you are taking stimulants, tranquilizers or psychotropic drugs.
Spending time in a sauna also been linked to a temporary decline in fertilityy because heat impairs sperm production.
The main danger of a sauna is that you could overheat or become dehydrated; severe heat illness and dehydration can be life threatening and people have died in saunas. Alcohol makes you more susceptible; half of the people who died in saunas, according to a Finnish study, were under the influence of alcohol. (The authors argue that the greatest danger is not the alcohol itself, but allowing a drunk person to be alone in a sauna.)
So if you choose to spend time in a sauna, be smart. Stay hydrated, don’t go alone, and don’t expect the sauna to do things that saunas can’t.