Originating from Finland, saunas are the ultimate spaces to relax and enhance your mental and physical health. However, the question that arises in the minds of sauna users quite often is does this Finnish practice full of pleasure also helps reduce weight by burning calories? Hold on to your curiosity for a little more as by the end of this article, you will surely know the answer to the most frequently asked question among sauna going community, which is, Does sauna burn calories?
Does Sauna burn calories?
Yes or No?
The short answer is, Yes, it is true that saunas do burn off calories, be it a traditional sauna or an infrared sauna, they all burn calories. On average, our bodies naturally burn about 80% of the calories we intake even when we are doing absolutely nothing, and saunas just multiply that rate by 1.5 x to 2 x.
An estimate of the number of calories burned in saunas can be found by using the BMR calculator. Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the minimum number of calories required to keep your body functioning effectively at rest.
The BMR of an average 5 ft. 5 inches tall, a 30-year-old woman weighing 150 pounds is 1,492 calories, which means she would naturally burn an estimate of 31 calories per 30 minutes. Using the same BMR Calculator this woman will burn around 46.5 to 62 calories while sitting in a sauna for the same amount of time.
So, in a sauna, the number of calories burned in a specific amount of time is 1.5 to 2 times the amount burned doing nothing, depending on one’s weight, height, age, and gender.
There is nothing complex in this; the number of calories lost can be easily estimated by simply multiplying the number of calories burned in a specific amount of time with either 1.5 or 2– with x1.5 being the minimum number of calories burned and x2 being the maximum.
How are the calories burned?
Your body maintains a constant body temperature at 37 degrees Celsius. Whereas the temperature in a sauna is high, this causes the body’s internal temperature regulation system to become active. The sweat glands in the skin start secreting sweat, which helps cool you down when it evaporates. This process requires energy which is gained by burning calories. Therefore, the more you sweat in a sauna, the more calories you burn.
Does Infrared Sauna burn calories?
While traditional saunas use steam, infrared saunas use infrared light rays– a type of light that is not visible to the naked eye but rather felt. Moreover, unlike the traditional sauna which warms the surrounding air, these light rays raise your core body temperature and work at lower temperatures compared to traditional saunas. However, despite the differences, they produce the same results as the traditional saunas and burn off calories when you sweat. Due to its lower temperatures, many find it more comfortable and accessible.
Nevertheless, you must bear in mind that saunas are not big calorie-burners and only very minute amounts of calories are burnt through sweating. The amount is so small that it might take around 15 trips to burn off a single chocolate bar. Furthermore, the calories you are burning in a sauna can be burnt by your body itself on a cold day. This is because when you shiver, the body generates heat and warms the body by burning calories. Thus, the amount of saunas being burnt in an infrared or a traditional sauna is very insignificant.
Can sauna sessions result in weight loss single-handedly?
Another very important question that must be in your mind is can you sweat off weight in a sauna? The answer is no. Though it is true that many people leave a sauna weighing a few pounds less than before, the weight loss is not due to the burning of fat/calories.
It is due to the water mass of the body lost as a result of excessive sweating. Moreover, most of the weight lost during a sauna session is regained quickly as soon as the person rehydrates. Sauna sessions are only equivalent to mild exercise and are not as impactful as cardio workouts for weight loss.
In a sauna, the endocrine system (that controls and coordinates your body’s metabolism and energy levels) does not need to do much work, as your body is only absorbing a fraction of the heat from the surrounding air- you would have to stay in until your body is the same temperature as the sauna before the endocrine system did any substantial work.
On the other hand, during cardio, your body does work onto a system that causes your body to burn an appropriate amount of calories, while also dramatically increasing your body temperature. On account of this, your metabolism will stay elevated for much longer and will continue to burn calories for up to 24 hours- which does not happen in the case of a sauna.
Sauna bathing is more or less equal to a low to moderate type of cardiovascular workout thus, the benefits (such as burning of fat) you get can be comparable to a certain degree to regular low to moderate types of exercises like weight training, brisk walking, walking uphill, jogging, and cycling
Dehydration- a risk
So, while multiple sauna sessions may help with weight loss, you cannot only depend on them entirely. You must also exercise regularly and monitor your diet.
The greatest risk for people who begin to use the sauna as a means to lose weight is dehydration.
Since beginners often want to lose weight as soon as possible, they may wonder if they can work out in a sauna, or maybe wear a sauna suit while working out. This could place their bodies in danger, as both exercise and a sauna session involve a great deal of water loss through sweating. As a result of too much fluid loss, dehydration can occur.
It is a condition that transpires when you are losing more fluids than you are taking in, and your body does not have enough fluids to work properly. Therefore, drink water before and after a sauna session as a precautionary measure. The following are some signs of dehydration:
- Extreme thirst
- Dryness in the mouth
- Lower frequency of urination
Seek medical attention as soon as possible if you observe any of these signs.
Some other things to be mindful of
While sauna bathing is beneficial in many ways, it is highly discouraged after a night of heavy drinking. Alcoholic drinks can increase your chances of experiencing dizziness, dehydration, or even a heart attack.
To ensure that you spend your time in a sauna safely, make sure to hydrate before entering the sauna and monitor yourself for signs of dehydration. If you experience a headache or anything similar, it is best to tread with care. If you are using the sauna to lose weight, you should stay for at least 20 minutes or longer for it to be effective.
Of course, you should ask your healthcare provider for advice on the time you spend sauna bathing, as they are familiar with your health issues and your heat tolerance. To make sure you are safe, increase the time you spend in the sauna by increments. Start with 5 minutes, and then gradually make your way to 10, 15, and eventually 20.
Furthermore, do not use sauna belts for longer sessions, as they are made from PVP materials. They could heat up and release toxins that can be detrimental to your health.
While saunas only burn a small number of calories and help you lose only the water mass- which is short-term, as it can be easily regained- it does not mean that saunas cannot help you achieve long-term weight loss. Now, this most definitely does not mean that you jump into the sauna and expect to come out with 10 pounds less in no time.
But, if you are serious about losing weight, plan on improving your diet, and spending a little more time moving around, then adding twenty-minute sauna sessions to your routine will most certainly benefit you.
Hi People! My name is Monica Khemsurov, and I am the founder of SaunaSavant. I am Finnish, a professional swimmer, and a lifelong sauna & spa enthusiast. In this blog, I will share my insights, suggestions, and recommendations on everything related to saunas and indoor living. Please let me know (through the contact box) if you have any feedback. Cheers!