Your concerns: I feel so exhausted after sauna

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A man in a sauna. (Net photo)

Dear doctor;

I am a little bit over size and have constantly been advised by my friends to go to the sauna regularly which I have heeded. Although I have lost some weight, I always feel so exhausted when I leave the sauna. Should I maintain my routine or leave the sauna completely.

Michael

Dear Michael,

Sauna bath is an ancient tradition, which originated from Finland and moved globally in many countries with movement of Finnish people. In older times it was used in cold countries of Europe and Russia but now is present and fashionable even in tropical countries, which are otherwise warm. Typical Sauna bath includes exposure of body to steam, followed by a shower. Some people take a hot shower before sauna bath to augment the benefits.

There are many benefits of sauna bath like removing body toxins, relaxing muscles and joints, removing physical and mental stress, improving immunity of the body and improving blood circulation in the body which minimises the risk of heart diseases. But loss of body weight is a controversial subject. Theoretically it is said that exposure to steam helps burn the calories. Sweating is supposed to be an activity involving energy, which mobilizes fat, something akin to melting of butter. But practically any weight loss that occurs is due to loss of water from the body due to excess perspiration. This can lead to dehydration as well, particularly if one’s water intake is low.

Sauna is not a reliable or effective method of weight loss and is not risk free. It can cause accidental burns, burns from dry heat, dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Men have risk of developing low sperm counts and infertility due to frequent sauna baths. This occurs due to increased scrotal temperature reducing sperm production. Sauna if used during early pregnancy can cause fetal abnormalities.

It is better to lose weight in a well documented scientific manner. Consult a dietitian, who can advise you on the kind and quantity of food which should be consumed as per the gender body built and level of physical activity.

Foods which should be totally avoided include white sugar and sugary preparations like jams, chocolates, candies, etc. Butter, cheese, alcohol, meat products except fish should also be avoided. These should be replaced by whole grains, vegetables and fruits in a quantity which should not exceed the total calorie requirement. Alcohol adds on calories without providing any nutrition, hence better to avoid it. Regular physical exercise helps in burning extra fat. Also avoid sitting continuously for long hours.

Some endocrine diseases like hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease cause weight gain. Corticosteroids taken for a long time also increase body weight. If in spite of diet control and regular exercise one does not lose weight, it is better to be investigated and treated for these conditions.

Dr Rachna Pande  is a specialist in internal medicine at Ruhengeri Hospital