Whether you’re looking for a long term solution for a tummy bulge or just want to drop a few pounds for a friend’s wedding, there are few of us who haven’t looked into using a steam room or sauna for losing weight.

Health and beauty spas often advertise steam rooms and saunas as a means of shedding some access pounds – but do they actually work? We take an insider look at using saunas and steam rooms for weight loss.

Sauna

What’s The Difference Between A Sauna And A Steam Room?

To put it simply, a sauna is dry heat and a steam room is wet. Saunas are typically wooden cabins that contain a collection of heated coals that create a hot, dry environment.

Water can be poured on them to create a plume of steam and increase the humidity in the atmosphere, which can be as low as 10% moisture or as high as 60%.

Different kinds of sauna include:

  • Infrared saunas, which use heating elements to reflect heat directly onto the user’s body. These are often used by athletes trying to harness the benefits of heat on muscle elasticity and recovery. Infrared saunas are also used in scientific experiments that look at the cardiovascular benefits of saunas.
  • Smoke saunas, which use a wood burning stove to heat rocks in a room without a chimney. The room is ventilated to get rid of the smoke before users enter it, after it has been heated.
  • A wooden manufactured sauna room is a cabin like structure that is freestanding or modular, often made out of a variety of wood types such as pine, hemlock, aspen, Nordic white spruce, western red cedar and alder.
  • An electric sauna creates heat with a floor or wall mounted electric heating element; these can be identified by the remote control with a temperature display to adjust the heat to your desired temperature.
  • A wood burning sauna is the typical Finnish or Scandinavian sauna which uses rocks or wood to produce heat. People in the sauna can modify the temperature by adjusting the rate of the burn.

A steam room, also known as a Turkish bath, is different in that the heat is provided from steam. Rooms are usually made from a non porous material like glass or plastic, and lined with tiles to ensure the steam does not escape from the room.

Steam rooms are designed to hold between 95% to 100% humidity and usually range in temperature from 100 degrees Fahrenheit to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

In many steam rooms there are bottles of scented oil to create a pleasant fragrance – due to the nature of steam rising, sitting lower in the steam room will make for a less intense experience, while sitting higher on the tiled benches will increase the temperature and humidity.

Sauna Health Benefits

People usually spend between five and twenty minutes inside a sauna, and the average heartbeat increases from around 120 beats per minute to 150, as it does during exercise.

According to several studies, saunas certainly have health benefits including relaxation, increased immune system function, lower rates of cardiovascular disease and fewer problems with blood pressure. They also appear to have lower rates of lung disease, cognitive disease and mental health problems.

A Japanese study found that regular sauna use alleviated symptoms in people with mild depression, and other studies have found that people who use saunas have a 60% reduced risk for developing Alzheimers and dementia.

This could be due to sauna users being more health conscious generally, or there may be something about the heat that contributes to increased physical and mental wellbeing. This is similar to the research that finds that hot baths can provide health benefits that are similar to those developed through exercise, including lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar and reduced general inflammation.

Steam Room Health Benefits

Steam rooms have also found to have numerous health benefits including improving circulation in older individuals, leading to lower blood pressure and a healthier heart.

Steam rooms can also help promote healing in areas of broken skin tissue and reduce the level of cortisol in the body, leading to lower levels of stress.

Steam rooms also create an environment that warms the mucous membrane and encourages deep breathing, so they can also help to clear congestion issues. A study on children with respiratory infections found that those who used steam therapy recovered more quickly than those who did not.

Athletes can use steam rooms to help with delayed onset of muscle soreness, and one study found that steam worked more quickly to work that dry heat. Another benefit of steam rooms is that they can help clear out bacteria and environmental dirt from the skin through sweat, leading to increased dermatological health and reduced skin breakouts.

Saunas, Steam Rooms and Weight Loss

Many people wonder whether saunas and steam rooms help people to lost weight. The intense heat of saunas and steam rooms promote vigorous sweating, which means that water leaves the body and therefore you do technically lose weight (up to several pounds at a time) from the experience.

However, the weight you lose in saunas and steam rooms is not fat or muscle, it is simply water weight, which will be regained once you drink – and you should drink after going into a steam room or sauna to rehydrate and rebalance your electrolytes.

The body uses calories while in a steam room or sauna as it is working hard to keep the body cool, however there is no evidence to suggest that this is enough calories to cause any significant amount of weight loss.

The other health benefits that steam rooms and saunas seem to provide may act as a motivator or catalyst for people to make lifestyle changes such as increased exercise, which may help them to lose weight.

How To Use A Steam Room Or Sauna For Health Benefits

Here are some recommendations as to how to use saunas and steam rooms healthily and effectively for long term wellbeing:

  • Use a steam room or sauna up to twice a week
  • Keep visits to no more than 20 minutes at a time
  • Drink between two and four glasses of water before going into the steam room or sauna
  • Avoid drinking alcohol before going into a sauna and this exacerbates dehydration symptoms
  • Bring a clean cotton towel to wrap around yourself and to sit on
  • Avoid anything non-breathable for example PVC as this could lead to overheating
  • Do not wear any metal including jewellery as this could heat up and burn your skin
  • Avoid using the sauna or steam room after a big meal, as your body will be using energy to cool you down instead of digesting
  • Always make sure there are at least two people in a sauna, in case one of you has a medical problem or faints
  • Always thoroughly read the instructions of the sauna or steam room that you are in so you know how to safely use it
  • If you are new to steam rooms and saunas, start at the lowest available temperature until you work your way up to hotter experiences
  • Leave the sauna or steam room immediately if you start to feel dizzy, nauseous or light headed
  • Cool down slowly after a sauna – while some people like to jump into a cold shower or plunge pool, this may send your body into shock
  • Have a shower but avoid harsh chemical products – the heat causes the skin’s pore to open up and this could irritate your skin
  • Drink between two and four glasses of water after leaving the sauna or steam room to help rehydrate your body
  • Eat a snack with some salt in to replace to electrolytes that you lose by sweating
  • Ensure that the sauna is clean and is vacuumed and wiped down regularly to prevent bacteria build up and any chance of infection.

When Should You Not Use A Sauna Or Steam Room?

Do not use a sauna or steam room if:

  • You are using prescription drugs and have not contacted your physician for advice on using a steam room or sauna
  • You are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • You are taking diuretics, barbiturates or beta-blockers as these impair the body’s natural heat loss mechanisms
  • You are taking anticholinergenics as these may inhibit sweating and increase the risk of heat rash and heat stroke.
  • You are taking over the counter medications that advise not to use a sauna or steam room
  • You are under 18
  • You are hungover
  • You have a fever
  • You have a recent acute joint injury or swelling

If you have any concerns about using a steam room or sauna you should consult your physician for further advice.

Conclusion

Using a sauna or steam room regularly can certainly be beneficial for your health, but is not something that will contribute directly to weight loss. Embarking on a healthy diet plan with a balanced calorie-deficit diet is the best way to lose weight – talk to your medical provider before starting any diet plan if you have any sort of health condition.

Hannah Canavan
Hannah Canavan
Researcher at DietProbe
Hannah is a health and lifestyle journalist with a passion for veganism and nutrition.
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