*Disclaimer: The written article is based on a summary of existing literature on the topic of infrared saunas. The article is for educational purposes and the information provided below cannot be taken as a promise to help with acute health problems or diseases.XX scientific references back the claims in the article. All references are numbered. You can access the text of the reference by clicking on the number.
In the past, I’ve already written about several infrared sauna health benefits, such as detoxification and improving heart and blood vessel health. This blog focuses on another popular topic: weight loss.
In this blog post, I’ll tell you how long you should use a sauna for the maximum weight loss benefits. I’ll also teach you about the ideal frequency of sauna sessions for weight loss. If you’re interested, I also recommend reading some of the previous blogs I wrote on fat loss, such as:
This blog post covers some of these topics but mainly focuses on how long to use a sauna for fat loss benefits. Let’s begin with a study that we ourselves performed on fat loss using an infrared sauna:
How Long Should You Use A Sauna For Fat Loss?
We set up a study in the US to determine how much weight study participants would lose over a period of a few months (1; 2). The study protocol demanded that participants use one of our infrared saunas thrice weekly for 45 minutes at a time.
Overall, study participants lost 1% body fat on average. The study took 16 weeks in total, which is about 4 months. However, not all study participants were as compliant as others in following the protocol.
Also, if you’d use the infrared sauna in the late afternoon or early evening, the fat loss levels would be doubled. More on that later. Overall though, you will lose at least 1% body fat per month if you’re using an infrared sauna three times per week for 45 minutes.
In a second study, participants used an infrared sauna five times per week for 30 minutes at a time. The participants were now also told to use the infrared sauna after 3 PM to benefit from the potentially increased fat loss that would happen.
This time, study participants lost 4% body fat over a period of mere 8 weeks instead of 16. So the higher infrared sauna session frequency and planning your sessions late in the day is extremely helpful.
For the maximum weight loss and fat loss benefits, I, therefore, recommend using an infrared sauna five times per week for at least 30 minutes at a time. Why are these results a big game-changer? The participants didn’t change any other lifestyle factors, such as movement or diet.
So the infrared saunas alone caused all the weight loss. That outcome can be a big plus, as the following problem currently exists:
The Problem With Being Overweight And Obese In The United Kingdom & How Saunas Can Help Fix This
A few years ago, in 2017, 64% of the United Kingdom population was overweight and 26% obese (3; 4; 5). These problems are also bound to increase even further until at least 2035.
And while the UK governments have good intentions by formulating strategies to deal with people being overweight and obese, these have rarely worked. And during decades-long processes, no changes in strategies have been implemented even after the obvious failure of government policy.
Being overweight and obese isn’t benign, though, as you probably know (6; 7; 8; 9; 10). If you’re overweight or obese your risk of getting diabetes, heart and blood vessel disease, psychological problems, joint issues and other consequences increases dramatically.
Now here’s where saunas and especially infrared saunas come in:
For many people who are overweight or obese, the step to start dieting or exercising is often very big. Sitting inside a sauna, however, that reduces stress levels, makes you feel great, and burns a lot of calories at the same time is frequently a far smaller step. So saunas are an excellent tool if you’re overweight or obese to get started on your health journey.
What Is The Ideal Sauna Session Frequency For Fat Loss?
The ideal sauna session frequency is at least five times per week. Not a lot of research exists on using a sauna more frequently than that though, so I cannot say for certain whether using a sauna every day helps even more.
There are some protocols, such as the niacin protocol for infrared saunas that recommend using the sauna seven days a week for detoxification. I will soon return to that topic - it turns out that by detoxifying you, you’ll make it much easier to lose body fat. And, heavy sweating inside an infrared sauna is the perfect tool to aid detoxification in the first place.
Another important reason why “more is better” - within reason of course - is that you’ll burn more calories the longer you’re inside a sauna.
How Many Calories Do You Burn Per Hour Sitting Inside A Sauna?
Before talking about how many calories saunas burn, let me make a short detour:
The “calories in, calories out” model of weight loss is the most popular in science right now in terms of consensus (11; 12; 13; 14; 15). Other models assume that carbohydrates eaten and the timing of your meals matter a great deal - I’ll ignore these for now as they’re not the mainstream in science (16; 17; 18).
So what I’ll assume here is that 1) spending time inside an infrared sauna helps you burn calories; 2) burning more calories helps you lose body fat, under the “calories in, calories out” model. “Calories” here are defined as a unit of heat. When you eat, your body ingests calories. When your body produces energy, it burns calories. And by spending time inside a sauna, your body needs to exert itself, and thus you’ll burn more calories.
Fortunately, a few studies monitor how many calories are burned inside a sauna (19, 20).
In one study, participants spend three sessions of 20 minutes inside a sauna with a 5-minute break in between. The sauna was heated to 70 degrees Celsius. During that time, participants burned between roughly 500 and 1,100 kilocalories within these three sessions.
In another study, participants burned about 600 kilocalories. So let’s say the average person burns about 750 kilocalories for an hour of sauna time. Those numbers make great sense as a pound of body fat contains 4,500 kilocalories.
You’ll burn a pound of body fat after six sauna sessions. Why? Simple: Six sessions of burning 750 kilocalories per session equals 4,500 kilocalories. Let’s explore what these numbers mean in context:
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How Many Calories Are Burned By Using A Sauna? The Long-Term Perspective
In ideal circumstances, current estimates assume you’ll burn about 750 kilocalories per hour inside a sauna. If you use a sauna six times per week for an hour, you’ll lose the equivalent of a pound of body fat per week.
However, the studies I quoted earlier didn’t use a sauna at maximum temperatures. One of these studies used a 70 degrees Celsius (158 Fahrenheit) temperature. That’s quite a low number for a traditional sauna, as Finnish saunas can be heated to temperatures of 80-110 degrees Celsius. So hypothetically, you could burn more calories than what was found in these studies.
But let’s compare these numbers to what we found in our own saunas for fat loss studies (1; 2). Here, participants lost 1% body fat per month. And, when the sauna was used after 3 PM, those numbers increased to 2% body fat.
Let’s assume you weigh 160 pounds. That means you’ll lose 4 pounds of body fat per month, which is 2.5%. That number is relatively high, but remember that in all these studies, people with higher body fat percentages lose far more weight than people with low body fat percentages.
(If that isn’t some tremendous extra motivation for you if you’re overweight or obese - you’ll get quick results, which should help you stick to a sauna for fat loss plan.)
Sauna Weight Loss Results If You’re Overweight. How Long To Stay In A Sauna And How Often?
But let’s say you weigh 220 pounds (100 kilograms). In that case, if you lose 4 pounds of body fat per month, that’s a loss of 1.8% body fat per month. That number is closer to the results we got in our own sauna studies.
So, by using a sauna three times per week after 3 PM, for 45 minutes, a 200-pound person should easily lose about 2% body fat per month. In half a year, you could lose 12% body fat that way, which means you’re not overweight anymore at that point.
Remember that you could even get quicker results if you’d increase the frequency of the sessions to five or six times per week.
Sauna Weight Loss Results If You’re Obese. How Long To Stay In A Sauna And How Often?
Now here’s another example. Let’s say you weigh 300 pounds (136 kilograms). In that case, you would probably lose 6 pounds of body fat per month - remember that the more body fat you start out with, the quicker you’ll lose it initially.
That’s a 2% body fat loss per month once again. Also, let’s assume you have a fat percentage of 40% there which is considered obese. Over a 6-month period, you could lose at least 12% body fat, putting you in the overweight category.
And if you’d do even more sauna sessions per week than in our sauna study, you might even have fully normalised your weight after a mere 6 months. Also, once more, these numbers don’t include changes in diet or other lifestyle changes.
Next up, let’s consider another important question. Let’s say you’ve decided to spend time inside a sauna three times per week. Which sauna should you choose in that case?
Infrared Saunas For Weight Loss Versus Traditional Saunas For Weight Loss? Which Option Wins?
So, what helps you lose more weight, a traditional sauna or an infrared sauna? Before I answer that question, let’s first consider what a traditional sauna and an infrared sauna are.
A traditional sauna uses hot air to heat your body. So, in the sauna room, hot air is generated. That hot air then heats your body when it comes in contact with your skin. Infrared saunas, on the contrary, use infrared light. That light - emitted from heater panels - then travels into your body and once it enters your cells it heats your body from the inside out.
Both options are really great for fat loss. But there are a few reasons why I consider an infrared sauna superior:
The infrared sauna experience is far gentler than the traditional sauna experience. Infrared saunas have a maximum temperature of around 60 degrees Celsius, while traditional saunas can be heated up to 110 or 120 degrees Celsius at the hottest. But breathing in that hot air is uncomfortable. Infrared saunas, on the other hand, feel extremely gentle even though they make you sweat like crazy.
High-quality infrared saunas heat all the correct tissues while traditional saunas do less so. To understand why I need to take a quick detour: where is the air the hottest, at the bottom of the sauna or at the top of the room? The correct answer is the top, of course. But the top of the sauna being hotter comes with a downside: your head will be heated to a greater extent than your body. With an infrared sauna it’s the opposite way around: your body and extremities will be heated because the infrared heater panels are only aimed at these tissues. Your head should remain untargeted and is so in a high-quality infrared sauna. And, as your head is the weakest link in letting you sweat a lot – in other words, your head gives up before you body – leaving the head unheated gives you a massive advantage as you can sweat a lot more. And more sweating and heating of your core and extremities but not your head equals more fat loss in the long-run.
An infrared sauna can be upgraded with more addons that make losing fat easier. Examples here are a Red Light Therapy Tower, which has proven benefits for fat loss (21; 22; 23; 24; 25). Many different studies show that red light therapy reduces body fat better than a placebo intervention. And our Red Light Therapy Tower can be used inside our infrared saunas. For you that means that you can even get better fat loss results than what I’ve described when analysing the studies earlier. Or, you could use Vibrational Resonance Therapy, which makes you even more relaxed in a sauna, further increasing the health benefits you get.
You can use an infrared sauna model that’s designed to increase your body temperature to the maximum if necessary. Our Infrared Sauna Dome comes to mind. This Dome sauna model places the heaters very close to your body. As a result, you’ll get maximum infrared light and heat exposure. You’ll subsequently start sweating like crazy. That Dome model has been used in research on “whole body hyperthermia” (26; 27; 28). In whole-body hyperthermia, participants need to increase the temperature of the core of their body to the maximum degree while their head is cooled. The experience is extremely intense but has great results for depression and other goals. Fat loss, moreover, would also be accelerated if you could maintain a very high body temperature for a long period of time. Athletes, for instance, who want maximum fat loss benefits would do well to consider our Infrared Sauna Dome.
So, for a few reasons, infrared saunas are superior for fat loss compared to traditional saunas. And there’s another angle I want to talk about when considering why saunas can help make you lose massive amounts of weight:
How Toxins Make You Fat And Infrared Sauna Detoxification Aids Fat Loss Big Tremendously
Throughout our lives, many of us accumulate more and more toxins in our bodies. Many of these toxins are stored in our fat cells, brain, bones, and other tissues. The body stores these toxins there because it makes them less volatile. If the toxins were to remain in the blood, they’d wreak even more havoc on many different tissues.
Basically, some of the most important tissues of your body become a garbage dump for toxins over time. The good news - which I’ve described in many different places on this blog - is that spending time inside a sauna helps your body remove many of these toxins.
Infrared saunas - especially when combined with niacin or vitamin B3 - can release these toxins from your fat cells and other tissues. Many toxins, such as heavy metals, BPAs and phthalates from plastics and other products, drugs, prescription medicine leftovers, and pesticides, are then released through your skin when you’re sweating (29; 30; 31; 32; 33; 34).
So let’s look at how all these toxins affect your levels of body fat one by one:
Heavy metals increase your risk of being overweight and obese (35; 36; 37: 38; 39). The evidence on this topic is overwhelming. The more heavy metals located in your body, the bigger the metabolic disturbances. The lowest 10% and highest 10% of people with the most stored heavy metals have a 4-kilogram difference in body weight, for instance. There’s a direct dose-response relationship often between higher heavy metal levels in the body and weight gain. Also, these problems occur well below industrial and governmentally-approved levels. The good news here is that heavy sweating will help your body eliminate many of them, especially over time.
Although not all studies agree, there’s probably a link between phthalate exposure and weight gain (40; 41; 42; 43; 44). Of course, it’s best to avoid exposure in the first place. Avoiding putting anything on your skin that isn’t natural is a good beginning here. And, if you were exposed to lots of toxins, removing them through an infrared sauna is your best bet.
Then there’s BPA that’s found in many plastic products, such as drinking bottles and plastic containers, which directly causes increases in being overweight or obese (45; 46; 47; 48; 49). Substitutes for BPA that aren’t banned yet, likely cause similar problems. On average, a 1ng/mL increase in the blood increased obesity risk by 11%. Your best bet is to limit plastic products in your life, especially those containing drinks or that are heated. But once again, saunas can be a big help too.
Lastly, there are pesticides. One of the most commonly-used herbicides called glyphosate, is strongly linked to being overweight or obese (50; 51; 52; 53). Eating an organic diet and limiting exposure to pesticides that are sprayed in your daily life are very important to keep your levels down. But saunas can also help you remove some of these toxins through the skin.
The worst part about all of this is that toxins become more and more dangerous the more you’ve stored of them in your body. So, exposure to heavy metals is harmful and exposure to BPA is bad. But taken together, the exposure is far worse, even slightly exponentially damaging sometimes.
So how long should you sauna to lower toxins for fat loss? A very popular protocol called the “niacin protocol” uses a 6-week period of seven days a week of infrared sauna sessions. You take a niacin dose before the sauna that gives you a flush (which helps release toxins) a few hours before your sauna session.
These niacin doses (the fast-acting and never the time-released) then help remove toxins from your cells. After a few hours, you do a sauna session. After a sauna session, you take a multivitamin, magnesium, and salt to taste before and during your sauna session.
Six weeks of this protocol used seven days a week can dramatically lower your toxin stores. Many people test 20-30% lower on many toxin tests after one six-week period. Use the infrared sauna for 40 minutes a day.
Can Infrared Light Break Down Fat?
Absolutely, infrared light or heat can break down fat by helping your body burn calories. And the red light therapy I talked about earlier can also liberate fat from the stores, moving it into circulation to burn it.
Simply put, the fat is broken down so your body can use its energy. That energy is then used to cool your body down, increase circulation, help your heart pump quicker, and so forth. But you’re still breaking down fat which helps with fat loss.
Losing Water Weight Versus Fat With Infrared Saunas: The Difference
During sauna sessions, you’ll sweat a lot. Sweating means that lots of water is released from your body. Therefore, I recommend drinking at least 1 litre per 60-minute sauna sessions to replenish your body’s water stores.
Drinking water is critical to avoid dehydration and not to get any side effects from your sauna sessions. And, believe it or not, drinking water also helps you burn more fat over time, even though the scale might tell you that you might lose more weight if you don’t drink water.
How? There’s a difference between water weight loss in a sauna and fat loss. For fat loss, you’ll have to stay inside a sauna for a long time and use a sauna many times per week. Drinking water improves your endurance and allows you to last longer inside a sauna. And, by lasting longer, you’ll burn more fat in turn.
Do Saunas Increase Metabolism?
Saunas help you maintain muscle mass. And saunas also burn lots of calories. Both these effects will increase your metabolism over time.
And paradoxically, by removing toxins from your body, saunas will also support building more muscle mass and losing fat over time (54; 55). Toxins such as heavy metals and phthalates have now been proven to decrease muscle mass levels in late life. Losses in early life are now likely too, although that hasn’t been investigated yet.
Overall, infrared saunas can thus influence your metabolism through several mechanisms in a positive way.