Do Sauna Suits Really Help You Lose Weight?

A New Study Sets Out to See if Sauna Suits Actually Live Up to the Claims

Is a sauna suit on your wish list this Christmas?  Never considered one before, you say? Well you might want to ask Santa for one this year.  Why?  Well, it turns out they there’s real science behind these sweat suits.   I never would have believed it myself if it wasn’t for a legit study done by Lance C. Dalleck, Ph.D., and researchers at Western State Colorado University.  They wanted to see if there were any health-related benefits associated with exercise training while wearing a sauna suit, so they ran a trial on a group of people who were overweight or obese.

The non-profit organization, ACE, sponsored the study.  In the past, ACE found that short-term training in a sauna suit improves heat acclimation and endurance training. But what about non-athletes who are not pursuing performance-related goals? Will the typical gym-goer, who is seeking weight loss or improved fitness, see any benefit from wearing a sauna suit during his or her workouts?  Keep reading….

Kutting Weight sauna suit
Kutting Weight sauna suit

Dalleck and his team used the Kutting Weight sauna suits made of Neoprene for their study. Not exactly what one would consider “fitness fashion forward”, but a cut above the old-school suits that look like their made of trash bags. Fashion aside, there is already concrete evidence that exercise combined with heat therapy provides cardiovascular health benefits. Now the question for Dallek is, “can portable heat stress in the form of a sauna suit beneficially alter health outcomes for overweight and obese exercisers?”

Who Did They Study?

To find out, they recruited 45 overweight or obese participants between the ages of 18 and 60 years old to participate in an eight-week exercise training program. The test subjects chosen were all sedentary, with body mass indexes (BMI) between 24 – 40 kg/m and, body fat percentages over 22% for men and over 32% for women, without being high risk for metabolic or cardiovascular diseases.

The participants were divided randomly between 3 groups:  a control (do nothing) group, an exercise only group and an exercise with sauna suit group.  The latter 2 did the same workout program. No changes were made to anyone’s diet. At the end of the study, both the sauna suit and exercise alone groups saw significant improvements in systolic and diastolic blood pressure and total cholesterol as well as significant shrinkage around the waistline.

What Did the Results Show?

No surprises there.  But the sauna suit group did get an 11.7% improvement in VO2max, compared to a 7.3% improvement in the exercise alone group. VO2max is considered the best indicator of cardiovascular endurance, so this is pretty huge if you care about your cardio fitness.  This basically indicates that wearing the sauna suit enhanced physical fitness and improved health more so than performing the same amount and intensity of exercise without wearing one.

The sauna suit group also saw a 2.6% reduction in body weight compared to a 0.9% reduction in the exercise alone group. And then this:  body fat decreased by 13.8% in the sauna suit group and only by 8.3% in the exercise alone group.

Other nice perks the sauna suit group experienced compared to the exercise alone group were:

  • Reduced fasting blood glucose (7.7% vs. 2.1% reduction)
  • Increased resting metabolic rate (an 11.4% improvement vs. a 2.7% decrease)
  • Increased fat oxidation (3.8% increase vs. 2.6% decrease).

That’s good stuff considering the workouts were only 45-minutes at moderate intensity 3 times a week and 30-minutes at higher intensity, 2 times a week.  Keep in mind that long-duration and HIIT workouts were not tested in this study.  And, none of the participants had diabetes.

The Takeaway

The take home message here is that, when compared to exercising in regular workout clothes, people who are overweight or obese and exercise while wearing a sauna suit, can see significant improvements in:

  • VO2max,
  • blood glucose,
  • resting metabolic rate,
  • fat oxidation,
  • body weight and body-fat percentage

These results certainly justify ditching those Lululemons and wearing an outfit that looks like a wetsuit or garbage bag to the gym instead.  Let the haters hate - I’ll take one in hot pink!  Will people of normal weight or just looking to lose 10 - 20 lbs benefit?  I don't know for sure and remember, these people were sedentary before the study, meaning they see results faster than fit people.   But, we know competitive athletes like boxers have used this method for decades to cut weight before a weigh in. Although in those cases it's probably mostly water weight.  However, with such impressive benefits to so many other fitness markers, I think it might be worthwhile to try.

According to ACE, the take home message is that “overweight and obese people who perform safe, individualized exercise programs under the supervision of a health and fitness professional would benefit from wearing a sauna suit during at least some of their workouts.”

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