An undated research project (PDF) at Binghamton University showed that using an infrared sauna three times a week can lead to a reduction in body fat. I have no doubt this was a well-controlled study and that its findings are authentic. What gives me pause, however, is that the results have been published all over the web with no dates, no publication information, and no serious research data. Furthermore, the organizations that are promulgating the findings are nearly all sauna manufacturers, most of whom have an interest in proving infrared sauna is ideal for weight loss.
Sauna Weight Loss is Slow
Before you let this study convince you that infrared sauna is the answer to your weight loss dreams, look at it closely. Participants used the infrared sauna 45 minutes at a time three times a week for 16 weeks. The best outcome was a 4% reduction in body fat. But consider this: a healthy 160-pound man in his 40s or 50s might carry 32 pounds of body fat. A 4% reduction amounts to a little over one and a quarter (1.28) pounds.
Percentages being what they are, you would lose more if you were overweight or obese, of course. But even at 25% body fat (the point at which a man is considered obese), a 160-pound person would only have lost 1.6 pounds with the sauna. I think a weight loss program that takes 16 weeks to help you lose less than two pounds requires more patience than most human beings are capable of.
That doesn’t mean infrared sauna has no place in a weight loss program. It just means it shouldn’t be your only (or even your principal) approach.
Real weight loss comes from diet and exercise. If you want to lose weight, find a diet and exercise program you can stick with. Then schedule yourself for regular infrared sauna sessions. There are four ways in which the infrared sauna can help you stay on track while you’re losing weight.
Infrared Sauna for Weight Loss
First, the sauna increases your metabolism. We know this because it increases your heart rate. The increased heart rate persists for about a half hour after the session is over. With a typical half-hour sauna session, then, you’ll have an increased metabolism for at least an hour on sauna days. Exercise increases metabolism, too, and that may be your main source of calorie deficit. But using a sauna on rest days can give you more increased metabolism than you get from exercise alone.
Second, sauna increases the production of sweat. Water loss is not significant in weight control, because you compensate for it when you rehydrate. But the very act of sweating burns calories. According to my rough calculations in this blog post, that calorie burn amounts to about a third of a pound a week if you use the sauna three times a week.
Infrared Sauna for Self-Help
Third, sauna tends to reduce hunger in obese people. Sauna increases your blood concentration of ghrelin, and for normal-weight people, this prompts hunger. But a 2003 study (PDF) found that for obese people, it seems to contribute to healthier eating habits. One patient’s body fat went from 46% to 35% in ten weeks.
Fourth, sauna reduces stress. Bathing in the heat of an infrared sauna relaxes you. Relaxing doesn’t necessarily help you lose weight, but it certainly helps you to avoid stress eating.
If you want to see how infrared sauna can help you keep your weight management on track, book a session today.