Don't expect to burn many calories by sitting in a steam sauna, or by sitting in a dry sauna, or by sitting in general. The notion that sitting in a steam sauna will enable you to burn plenty of calories and, as a result, help you lose weight is a myth. If you want to burn calories, exercise is the answer.
1. The Myth
Claims that you can burn from 150 to 500 calories just by sitting in a sauna for 15 minutes are false. In fact, former Navy SEAL Stew Smith at Military.com says that sitting in saunas, or wearing sweat suits or garbage bags to raise your body temperature and make you sweat more, are completely ineffective as weight loss devices. Although a sauna, wet or dry, might make you sweat like crazy, you're only losing water weight which will be replaced as soon as you drink water and eat to rehydrate your body.
2. The Reality
Fitness Blender says that sitting in a sauna burns more calories that just plain sitting, but not by much. For example, a 185-pound man burns 21 calories when sitting for 15 minutes. The number is multiplied by 1.5 to 2.0 to determine calories burned in a sauna, which yields a total burn of roughly 30 to 40 calories. That's about the same number of calories you'd burn watching television, according to ExRx.net.
3. Steam Sauna Benefits
Even though you won't burn enough calories to enable you to lose weight, both steam and dry saunas are useful in other ways. The Columbia University website, Go Ask Alice, says that sweating in a sauna opens pores, which temporarily cleans the outer layers of the skin, although it doesn't remove toxins, another myth about sweating and saunas. Still, saunas make you warmer, help you relax after a hard day or workout and lower your pulse rate and blood pressure by dilating your blood vessels.
Sitting in a sauna for 15 or 20 minutes is fine for most people, according to Harvard Health Publications. But saunas can dehydrate you, so drink plenty of water beforehand and especially afterward. If you have certain heart conditions, such as abnormal heart rhythms, heart failure or valve disease, you should avoid saunas unless you receive an okay from your cardiologist. If you sit in a sauna for an extended period of time, you risk heat stroke and the possibility of kidney damage, stroke or heart attack, according to Military.com.
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