benefits of sauna

Does sauna burn fat?

There is a ton of misinformation in the fitness industry in general, and one of the places where information gets distorted has to do with saunas. Time in the sauna feels great and offers health benefits, but some sources vastly over exaggerate the idea that you can lose weight in a sauna. Some claim that there are anywhere from 300-1000 calories burned in a sauna session of 30 minutes.

Doesn’t that sound nice? You get to kick back on your bum in a hot room for 30 minutes and use an average of 10 to 33.3 calories per minute? You/we wish!

If you have ever watched the readout on a treadmill or pushed yourself through a tough HIIT workout, you’ll know that burning a rate of even 14 cals per minute is extremely high and hard to sustain. So what makes people think that you burn such a high rate of calories by sitting in a sauna?

They claim that your body has to struggle to maintain it’s preferred temperature, which causes the metabolism to kick into overdrive, thus using calories. There is truth to that but in no way would that ever cause you to use any more than double the rate of calories for doing exactly what it is that you do in a sauna or steam room; sitting.

To those wanting to have a good sweat, saunas can be the best place. However, it may not be the perfect one for people who think a combination of hot temperatures and lost fluid could lead to weight loss. 

Many people believe that spending 15 to 30 minutes in a sauna, at temperatures reaching as high as 195 degrees Fahrenheit could help shed some pounds. Because many exercise tips floating online suggest that when you break a sweat, your body is also losing fats. 

But for fitness experts, a sauna can do little to help you in weight loss. Sweating while sitting in a room for a few minutes only cuts water weight, according to Healthline.

That means you only lose water from your body and not burn fats. In saunas, you do not burn good amounts of calories, and you are not building muscles. 

In addition, it is easy to regain lost water weight by simply drinking again. Advocates said that high temperatures in saunas could increase heart rate just like during physical exercise. 

That is true. However, that increase burns calories slightly higher than sitting at rest and far from strenuous physical activities. 

There are also myths about saunas that it could help burn 300 to 1,000 calories within 30 minutes. On a treadmill or a HIIT workout, losing 14 calories per minute is already considered to be extremely high and hard to sustain. 

So simply sitting and enjoying hot temperatures may not really help you burn hundreds up to a thousand cals. A healthy male of 185 pounds may only burn 63 to 84 calories in 30 minutes of sitting in saunas, according to Fitness Blender. 

Calories are the major cause of weight gain for most people. It makes sense to both limit calories coming in as well as by working out. Sauna burns calories in a way similar to exercise. By heating up the body, the heart must beat faster to keep cool. The result is that simply sitting in a sauna burns a surprising amount of calories. According to the Mayo clinic health education website, a person weighing around 160 lbs. will burn about 300 calories during a 30-minute session in the sauna. This can be a game-changer for people unable to fit in a proper workout before bed, or any other time, in their own home.

Picture yourself enclosed in the small, dry and hot depths of a sauna. As the scent of the aromatic cedar engulfs you, you stretch your tired muscles, feeling them relax. Researchers believe the nomadic Finns enjoyed this same experience thousand of years ago. The Finns used these “sweat baths” to cleanse their bodies of unwanted toxins and feel rejuvenated. Today, people still use saunas for detoxification and relaxation, but some also try to use them for weight loss.

The stress hormone cortisol is a major cause of weight gain for many people. A sauna session has been shown to de-stress the mind in a number of ways. First of all, it is a proven sleep enhancer, and more sleep has been shown to increase stress tolerance and improve moods. Sauna use also produces prolactin which the body converts into myelin which also protects our minds from being more vulnerable to anxiety. Sauna use also increases beta-endorphins, and Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor, both of which help create a sense of calm and happiness.

Can You Burn Fat in a Sauna?

As we’ve seen already, heat exposure will very likely help you lose water weight. But are there any benefits to fat loss or is it all a waste of time?

It is commonly thought that saunas help to boost your metabolic rate by potentially up to 20% through a process called thermogenesis.

And while it might only be a modest amount of calories, in this case, saunas may indeed contribute towards fat loss. We say contribute because using a hot room to boost the metabolic rate will have a modest effect on its own.

But couple it with a productive diet plan, regular exercise and some good supplements and you’re well on your way.

Thermogenics such as green tea and red chilli have been found to make big differences to body composition and fat loss. Still, in reality, any differences a sauna will make to body composition will be minimal at best. Without a full lifestyle approach, they are unlikely to make that big a difference.

In fact, saunas have such a modest effect on fat loss that one review suggested that rather than sauna use, fat loss should be encouraged by:

  • Hitting a negative energy balance
  • Avoiding high-fat diets
  • Strength and conditioning training to maintain muscle mass
  • Focus on a nutrient-rich diet

What is Water Weight?

One thing that is very important to consider the topic of the steam room and infrared sauna weight loss is water weight or the collection of fluids in your tissues. This buildup of fluid causes bloating and can make the scale fluctuate by 2-4 pounds every day. If you hear about something that will help you “lose weight quickly,” water weight is typically being targeted. While it is a quick weight loss tip, long-term weight loss requires more than simply losing water weight.

There are many ways to reduce water weight, including reducing sodium intake, reducing carbohydrate intake, increasing water intake, and sweating it out – something both infrared saunas and steam rooms is great at helping you achieve.

Sitting in a sauna will lead to weight loss because of sweating. You will see a change on the scale upon leaving the sauna since you have lost some water. Losing water weight is not permanent, however, and the lost weight is often gained back as soon as you eat or drink something. Because sweating helps decrease the weight so quickly, it is a tactic employed by boxers and wrestlers to make a specific weight class.

What these athletes lose by sweating is fluids, not meaningful pounds from the burning of fat or calories burned. The fluid loss will soon be replaced when the athlete starts rehydrating. 

Using saunas and other rapid weight loss methods by wrestlers has not faired well in the medical literature. These methods have been linked to depression, decreased learning capability, renal problems and growth stunting. Doctors won’t ever recommend sauna weight loss; nevertheless, it continues to be engaged in.

Yet, when you think about it, these athletes know something about how to lose weight. They might not know the specific answer to the question, how many calories do you burn in a sauna – studies are hard to come by on this topic – but they know how much fluid their own body will relinquish sitting in a sauna. 

By the way, some sauna companies answer the question, how many calories do you burn in a sauna on their site. They state it’s anywhere from 300 to 1000 calories for a 30-minute infrared sauna session. 

But think about it. 300 to 1000 calories still is a far cry from the 3500 calories that is needed to lose a pound of body fat. And it’s entirely possible that a supposed sauna weight loss session could be working against your efforts to lose weight. That’s because the process of breaking down fat depends on water. Without the water, you can’t break down the fat. 

Unfortunately, the weight lost from this process is merely water weight and no fat burn. This means, as a stand-alone activity, the results of using a sauna or steam room for weight loss are very short-term, and the weight will return once you drink water again.

Is water loss the same as weight loss?

An early study found that an average weight loss of 4% could be lost in an infrared sauna. That means that if you weigh 150 pounds, you could drop six pounds in the sauna from a fluid. 

This type of weight loss, which is rapid, was more detrimental to the physical performance of athletes than weight loss achieved over a 48-hour period of time from exercise, the doctors in the study stated.

When one researcher studied three different methods: sauna, shower, and ice water immersion to see which method had the greatest weight loss, he tested the difference between heat and head-out ice water immersion, heat and 15 degrees Celsius shower, sauna and room temperature, and head-out ice water immersion and room temperature. 

Sure enough, he found a difference. The greatest weight loss was observed in the sauna and room temperature group. Thirty per cent more grams of weight was lost when people used the sauna and then merely sat in a room at room temperature, compared to those who immersed themselves in ice water or took a cold shower after the heat. In this case, the weight loss was measured in grams, not pounds. The top weight loss was 544 grams. There are 453 grams in one pound. 

In 2003, a study at the University of Granada in Spain asked the same question of how much weight can you lose in a sauna. He and his colleagues quantified how much weight was lost after three consecutive 20-minute sauna sessions at 70 degrees Celsius with a 5-minute rest interval in between. Here is one study where we actually get another important question answered – how long to stay in each session. 

They compared this to the weight of the volunteers after one hour of rehydration, offering 2.5ml/kg body weight every 15 minutes (about a cup of water every 15 minutes). The men lost 3.96 pounds, and women lost 3.08 pounds. This amount of fluid loss could not be rapidly reversed through rehydration. 

Interestingly, the more water loss the women had from the sauna, the more they were unable to jump as high as they could before the sauna. Some women reduced their jump height up to 6% just because of poor hydration.

The fact is that your body works harder to maintain its temperature while sitting in the sauna that at some other place else. That increases the number of calories you can burn. However, the difference won’t be much more significant.

For example, a man weighing an average of 185 pounds (84 kg) will burn 21 calories while sitting in front of the TV for 15 minutes. The same man will burn about 30 to 40 calories in the sauna at the same time. Still, it is much less than the data referred to in some articles you can find on the Net.

When you notice that you have lost some weight right after the session in the sauna, you can assume that you actually have lost water from the body, not fat. According to the results of research in the Harvard Medical School, you can lose approximately 1 pint (0.47 l) of water while sitting in the sauna for a short time.

Unfortunately, once you drink a few glasses of water after the session, you will replace all the sweat lost and return weight. On the other hand, if using the traditional or infrared sauna regularly, you can lose weight in the long run. Additionally, a hard workout and a healthy diet will help a lot.

Burning Calories

When most people embark on an exercise regime, their main end goal is to lose some weight. Fortunately, there is a link between infrared sauna use and burning calories in a sauna. For instance, infrared saunas are very effective at boosting your cardiovascular, immune and lymphatic system, which helps your body to detox.

Increasing your body heat will help you burn extra calories. Doctor of Physical Therapy Tim Jackson says the heat will cause your body to raise its metabolic rate by up to 20 per cent. This jolt to your metabolism will allow you to continue to burn calories for up to several hours after spending time in the sauna. The increase in temperature forces your heart to beat at least 30 per cent faster, which means your body has to burn more calories for energy.

Furthermore, infrared heat can somewhat increase human growth hormone (HGH) production and lower cortisol levels to trigger more weight loss. In general, sitting in an infrared sauna can help you boost muscle recovery and improve your overall well-being, which is all very good and useful factors when you are on a weight loss journey.

Any time your body is heated (by exercising, sunbathing or entering a heated space) – it immediately tries to cool itself down and regain homeostasis.

In a Finnish sauna you’d splash some water on your skin and cool down, but in a dry sauna or an infrared sauna, your body has to cool itself down on its own.

The result is SWEAT. Sweating is the body’s natural way of regulating body temperature. It does this by releasing water and salt, which evaporates to help cool you.

The act of vaporizing sweat requires ENERGY. Calories are units of energy, derived from the food you consume.

Guyton’s Textbook of Medical Physiology reports that one gram of sweat requires 0.586 calories for the vaporizing effect.

How to calculate the calories you burn in a sauna

The accepted rule for how many calories a person in a sauna will burn on average is 1.5 times more than the base rate. The average person weighing 150 pounds, and sitting for 30 minutes burns approximately 56 calories. This same person sitting in a sauna will, therefore, burn 84 calories instead. It’s a slight but noticeable increase.

Alternatively, there are other estimates just as logical and provable that estimate in some, the body burns up to 600 calories in a half-hour session. Why these estimates are so wide has to do with body type and other variables. Regardless of what one believes, the only way to truly measure the effects of a sauna on weight loss and calorie loss is by measuring heart rate – something which can be done with a heart rate monitor.

Despite this estimate, some studies argue saunas and steam rooms have the same impact as moderate-intensity exercise. The way that your heart rate and blood pressure rise is just like engaging in moderate cardio. For someone with a chronic condition, chronic pain, mobility problems, or struggling with something that’s preventing them from getting in a workout, a heat therapy room like a sauna or steam room may be their answer. The body responds just like it would if you were doing moderate exercise. Done carefully and regularly, it won’t help you gain muscle; however, it can help increase the calories you’re burning.

Detoxification

Just like the Finns many years ago, people today use saunas to help detoxify the body. Sweat is composed of lymphatic fluid, so any toxins in the lymphatic system are expelled when you sweat. Jackson says the elimination of toxins, such as heavy metals, helps you burn fat more effectively because they are not hindering your metabolism any longer.

Workout Boost

When used after exercising, the steam room is a great supplementary practice to help you on your journey. Steam rooms can be used after a workout to help sweat out any remaining toxins. The application of steam also helps the recovery of muscles, making it easier for you to get back to your workouts. And like saunas, where calorie burn isn’t much higher than normal, consistent use of a steam room after working out can give you an extra calorie boost to lose weight.

Whether you choose a sauna or steam room for weight loss, both are great additions to your routine. While using as stand-alone treatments may not show quick or drastic results, using saunas and steam rooms can be used to improve your overall health and weight goals when combined with proper diet and exercise.

Warnings

Excessive sweating can lead to a severe loss of electrolytes, which can result in kidney damage or death. Exposure to extreme heat can also cause cardiovascular emergencies or heatstroke. To keep hydrated, Dr. Harvey Simon of Harvard Men’s Health Watch suggests drinking two to four glasses of water after spending time in the sauna. Dr. Simon also advises sauna users to only stay in the sauna for 15 to 20 minutes at a time and to head for the door upon feeling dizzy or ill.

How To Make Sauna Work For Weight Loss?

Sauna is an effective weight-loss method. However, it’s not magic.

You must schedule your sauna visits depending on your current body weight and target weight.

Typically, getting a sauna bath two-three times a week for two weeks will help kick-start your weight loss.

After two weeks, you will start to feel energetic and refreshed. Then, you must include light exercise in your daily routine.

For the next three weeks, take a sauna bath twice a week. After that, include strength training and cardio in your workout routine and take a sauna bath to relax and rejuvenate your muscles.

You’re much better off with real exercise. You create a true temperature regulation/metabolic boost effect on your body while exercising; when you push your body into strenuous physical activity, your metabolism is stoked as it tries to regulate body temperature, AND all of your muscles are called upon to function in unison, and your heart rate is elevated. That burns calories! Far more than sitting in a hot steam room or sauna. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) and strength training are excellent, scientifically-backed methods of increasing your metabolism – albeit slowly & marginally, but these things add up over time.

There’s no problem with joining the leagues of people who make sitting in a hot box a fundamental part of their regular workout regime; in fact, there are health benefits to be gained from it. I know for me, it ends up feeling very relaxing. Just make sure that your main objective is not solely to lose weight; the calories burned in those sitting sessions are not substantial, you aren’t burning fat, and you are not building muscle.

So which kind of sauna helps lose weight the most effectively? The steam sauna is the least likely to help since the humid ambient temperature will feel hotter while actually heating your body less. Infrared saunas have the advantage of heating the body without the sensation of feeling high heat which is uncomfortable for many. This means your metabolism will increase without making you uncomfortably hot.

Enjoying a sauna or steam room properly (and with approval from your doctor) is not a bad addition to a fitness routine, and it can be very enjoyable and serve as a bit of a treat after a particularly demanding workout. Just don’t erroneously believe that it’s attributing a noteworthy amount of calories burned to your total or that it’s going to help you lose any weight that you won’t re-drink in the next hour or two.

Sauna is a great choice when you are just starting to lose weight. It will not only aid weight loss but also impart other health benefits. But you must eat healthily and slowly introduce your body to cardio and strength training to look toned up and strong. So, take care and be fit. Cheers!

Scroll to Top