Is a Sauna Better Than a Workout?
Correlations are often drawn between workouts and sauna use because of their metabolic properties such as heart rate increase and core temperature increase. The purposes behind a sauna session and a workout are truly different. In this sense, a sauna is not better than a workout and a workout is not better than a sauna. Understanding the ‘why’ behind what you’re doing may help you understand this.
The term ‘workout’ is a broad term to describe exercise. In regards to a weights workout, typically the benefits you would find from that include: increase in bone density, increased metabolic rate, muscle gain, fat loss, joint protection and many more. When it comes to a cardio workout the benefits have more of a relation to cardiovascular adaptations such as: increased metabolic rate, improved circulation, fat loss, heart health increase, and others(1). Clearly there are some commonalities among these, but one would typically not suggest that either of these could directly replace another. This is similar to the comparison of sauna use and a workout.
True Sauna Benefits
With sauna use one can expect benefits such as: increased metabolic rate, enhanced immune health, increased circulation, increased neural regeneration and many more(2). With this in mind we can draw some common benefits between sauna use, cardio and weights workouts. The point that should be made here is that none of these three activities can directly replace another; however, using each to supplement another will unlock all benefits of each activity.
Benefits of Activities
Sauna use is more similar to cardio exercise as it has similar benefits. The differences revolve around the magnitude of each benefit. The cardiovascular output in a high intensity cardio workout cannot be compared to a sauna session. However there are still important benefits sauna sessions offer that cardio does not. This would include: improved brain function, dramatically increased core body temperature, detoxification, etc.
Does a Sauna Burn Fat?
Cardio and sauna use are often apparent in the same breath as fat loss. This begs the question, does a sauna burn fat? This seems to be based on a basic misunderstanding of energy expenditure and its relation to fat loss. Neither a sauna or a cardio session directly burn fat from your body; however they do contribute to energy expenditure, which in an environment where expenditure is greater than intake, fat loss occurs.References:
1. National Library of Medicine, Earric Lee, Joel Kostensalo, Peter Willeit, Setor K. Kunutsor, Tanjaniina Laukkanen, Franesco Zaccardi, Hassan Khan and Jari A. Laukkanen, “Standalone sauna vs exercise followed by sauna on cardiovascular function in non-naive sauna users: A comparison of acute effects”, 4-Dec-2021.
2. National Library of Medicine, Richard Beever, “Far-infrared saunas for treatment of cardiovascular risk factors”, Jul-2009.