Though many praises are sung for saunas, one of the most long-ranging debates when it comes to sauna benefits is whether or not a sauna session can really burn them calories!
From fitness enthusiasts to sauna lovers, the opinions have been divided, with an equal number of fans on both sides, but what does science say?
Read on to find out if you can really expect to lose weight in a sauna, or if it’s all just an urban myth!
Does a sauna session really burn calories or do you merely end up losing water weight that doesn’t even last as long as a social media trend?
Well, the good news is that you can expect to burn calories and not just lose water weight in the sauna!
You can lose up to 50% more calories in a sauna session than you would while simply resting, which amounts to almost 25 calories in 15 minutes, 50 in 30 minutes, 70 in 45 minutes, and a whopping 100 calories in a 60-minute session.
Of course, other factors also play a role, such as your age, gender, and current body weight.
Weight-loss seekers around the world rejoiced when they realized that a sauna can burn calories—it’s peaceful, relaxing, and you’re getting the job done without moving a muscle; win-win!
However, for any significant weight loss, you need to head to an infrared sauna.
An infrared sauna is much younger than its traditional cousin, only coming into existence in the late 19th century. Inside these saunas, your skin is directly exposed to infrared radiation between 120 and 140°F and is heated directly by it, instead of getting heated by the hot air in the sauna, as is the case with traditional saunas.
Due to the absence of steam, there’s no problem with humidity.
Studies show that when exposed to long-wave lights, the human heart increases its pace, having the same effect as 30 minutes of walking would. This causes an increase in the body temperature, which in turn causes your body to cool down by sweating more.
The end results? Higher metabolism and consequentially, more caloric burn.
A session in an infrared sauna is akin to doing low-impact cardio, with healthy sweating and heart rate.
So, yes, in addition to detoxification, pain relief, boosting your immune system, and ensuring better absorption of nutrients, an infrared sauna can also increase your metabolism and heart rate, both essential to burn fat and cause weight loss.
Is sweating and having a high heart rate enough to lose weight, and more importantly, is it healthy?
Since a sauna, as mentioned before, has the same effect as low-impact cardio, there is an indirect burning of calories.
Sweating, per se, will not contribute to weight loss; however, the very act of sweating causes your body to burn calories. In order to produce sweat, your body is doing some work, which means it’s expending calories, as fuel, to get the job done.
Additionally, sweating in a sauna causes fat to release from the membranes of important cells, further aiding weight loss.
The hotter your body gets in an infrared sauna, the more the “cardio” effect, which also kicks your immune and lymphatic systems into action, causing sweating and resulting in detoxification—also an important contributor to weight loss.
However, be advised that a sauna alone can’t help you with weight loss; it merely aids the process, assisting important players such as caloric deficit, a healthy diet, and exercise.
Without these, any weight lost in the sauna will not last in the long run.
Depending on the amount of time you spend in the sauna, you can lose varying numbers of calories. Here’s a breakdown of calorie burn in different periods:
Infrared waves take at least 20 minutes to start working their magic, so a 15-minute session may not do much for your caloric burn.
Even then, 15 minutes in a sauna will burn 23 calories for the average person as compared to 16 calories while resting.
Over repeated sessions, this could amount to a significant number of calories burnt—in a month, you could burn as many as 186 additional calories with regular sauna sessions, and all while just relaxing!
As mentioned earlier, 30 minutes in the sauna has the same effect as low-impact walking.
For the average person, this means caloric burn of up to 50 in 30 minutes. If you visit the sauna five times a week for four weeks and spend 30 minutes each day, you could burn up to 400 additional calories!
This is where it starts to get real, with 70 calories burnt in a 45-minute session.
Even for more experienced sauna users, with the health conditions and physical wellness to support it, 45 minutes is the maximum a session should last—any longer and lightheadedness and dehydration set it. In fact, most facilities place a 30-minute cap on sauna sessions.
If you do plan to spend over 45 minutes in the sauna, ensure that you adequately hydrate yourself and take a couple of days between sessions to recover.
60 minutes is for sauna heavyweights, with nearly 100 calories burnt per session!
If you’re doing 60 minutes, restrict your sessions to twice or thrice a week; this will still burn 400 additional calories a month.
While a sauna will help you with your weight loss, it’s not magic. You’re only burning 50% more calories than you would while resting, and you still need to put in the other work, such as eating healthy, maintaining a calorie deficit, and exercising regularly.
Without all of these, as mentioned earlier, your weight loss from your sauna sessions is not going to last.
If you’d like to calculate the number of calories you can burn in a sauna session, determine your baseline caloric burn and multiply it by 1.5.
Lastly, while you are burning calories, remember that you are primarily losing water weight, which is quite easy to gain back. So while you can expect some benefits, don’t expect miracles—simply (safely) enjoy your sauna session!