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There are no more relaxing means of trimming fat and burning excess calories than in a sauna, but how effective are they really when it comes to slimming down your waist?
Well, that’s the question we’ll be biting off today.
In order to answer the question of how effective saunas are at burning calories, we first need to understand how they burn them in the first place.
It’s a remarkably simple phenomenon, that we use to a lesser extent every day - the metabolism.
By exposing the body to higher temperatures - be it through a wet or dry sauna or an infrared sauna - our bodies attempt to regulate our temperature by triggering the sweating response, increasing the heart rate, and cardiovascular system, and conveniently for those looking to burn fat at home - the body burns calories.
It’s widely known that the benefits saunas can help individuals shed excess water weight - predominantly athletes that are weighed ahead of competitions - but this is a superficial means of interpreting the data.
Before we explain the data, for those of you looking for a quick fix to the question; "how many calories do I burn in a sauna", try our free calories burned sauna calculator to get an estimated answer. The great thing about this sauna calorie calculator is you can find out how many calories you burn in 20 minutes, how many calories you burn in 30 minutes and how many calories you burn in 60 minutes!
There is no end to using this calculator, so have fun with it! Keep in mind, however, that counting calories burned isn't an exact science, as every body has a different metabolism. This tool is simply an idea for how much - on average - you could burn, using the data and clinical papers we outline later.
So give it a try!
Infrared Sauna Calorie Burned Calculator
Infrared Sauna Calorie Burned Calculator
Calories Burned Per Session: 0 calories
Calories Burned Per Week: 0 calories
Example: Running at 9.6kmh for 0 minutes would burn the same amount of calories as one sauna session
How to Use the Sauna Calorie Calculator
To use the calculator, you input your weight in kilograms, the number of minutes you spend in the sauna per session, and the number of sauna sessions you have per week. The infrared sauna calorie burned calculator uses the MET value, or metabolic equivalent, of walking to determine how many calories are burned per minute in an infrared sauna.
The MET value of walking is 2, which means that you burn 2 calorie per kilogram of body weight per hour while briskly strolling. The calculator then multiplies your weight by the MET value of sitting to determine how many calories you burn per hour, and divides that number by 60 to get the number of calories you burn per minute. It then multiplies the calories burned per minute by the number of minutes per session, and by the number of sessions per week, to determine the total number of calories burned per week. Walking has been chosen as the MET value due to the heart rate equivalent is similar to sauna bathing.
In addition to providing the total number of calories burned, the calculator also gives an example of how far someone would have to run to burn the same number of calories. This is based on the average number of calories burned per minute while running, which is around 10 calories per minute for a person weighing 70kg. The calculator divides the total number of calories burned in the sauna by 10 to determine how many minutes of running it would take to burn the same number of calories. It then estimates how far a person would run in that amount of time based on an average running speed of 8km/h.
Overall, this calculator is a useful tool for anyone looking to track their calorie burn during infrared sauna sessions and understand how it compares to other forms of exercise like running.
Note that the calorie burn rates used here are just estimates and may not be accurate for everyone. It's always a good idea to consult with a doctor or fitness professional before starting any new exercise regimen. This calculation assumes that a person weighing 70kg burns 100 calories running 1km at a speed of 8km/h.
This is down to the fact that as your core temperature rises while using a sauna, the body attempts to regulate this rise in temperature by burning calories.
A two-phase study from the Binghamton University in New York shows that people who used a sauna three times a week were able to reduce their body fat index by 4% over a four-month period.
Researchers noted that users did not change their exercise or diet during the study, and their control group - who did not partake in sauna use - showed no signs of losing weight.
This led the researchers to conclude that regular sauna use can have a profound impact on the body’s metabolism and ability to burn through calories in a short period of regular sauna usage.
How Many Calories Do You Burn in a Sauna?
The question of how many calories someone burns inside a sauna remains highly subjective, as you can imagine, on the person’s level of health, and things like their weight and tolerance to heat. Just like the question, "how long should you stay in a sauna for maximum benefits", the answer we provide can only be generic and utilising the clinical studies available.
In saying that, the universally agreed-upon range of calorie loss, however, is around 1.5-2 times the normal rate of calories burned than just sitting on the couch.
This means that without any real physical activity, you can almost double your body’s ability to metabolise calories - and as you’ll discover in a minute, fat - through the simple act of sitting in a sauna.
Does Sitting in the Sauna Burn Fat?
Yes, sitting in a sauna can help you burn through the fat- but it depends on which sauna you’re using.
A traditional wood-burning or wet sauna, such as a steam room helps your body burn through calories, but has been proven less effective when it comes to burning excess fat.
Due to the way in which an infrared sauna targets your body with infrared light - which is transferred to heat that penetrates underneath the skin - it is much more effective when it comes to burning fat.
Discover proven ways to supercharge your infrared sauna experience.
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Calories 101: Does Infrared Sauna Use Burn Calories?
“Calories” are simply a definition within Chemistry, and signify the amount of energy needed to increase the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius (8)
Energy is primarily created in your cells (9; 10). Most of your cells contain hundreds to thousands of “mitochondria”. “Mitochondria” can be conceived as the energy-producing factories of your cells.
In your mitochondria, the food you ingest is finally converted into energy. Without going into too much detail, the calories you ingest from food are finally burned in your mitochondria. That energy-producing process allows you to survive and thrive.
The poorer that energy-creating process in your mitochondria becomes, the closer you’ll move to disease. And, the better that process becomes, conversely, the closer you’ll move towards health.
With that being said, you now understand the basics of calories and where they are burned. Let’s now turn the conversation to the topic of the calories infrared sauna connection:
Different types of intermittent stress can increase the size and number of mitochondria in your cells (11; 12). Your body, therefore, becomes more efficient with the energy (calories) it takes in.
These types of intermittent stress include exercise, spending time in low-oxygen environments such as high mountains, and both low and high temperatures. The low temperature stressors such as cold showers and ice baths after sauna have become really popular in the last few years.
High-temperature stressors include hot baths, Finnish saunas, steam rooms, and infrared saunas, among others. During all of these activities, the body actively counters overheating. Energy needs to be spent to cool down your body, which then necessitates the burning of calories.
The magic question then becomes: “how many calories burned in an infrared sauna?” Here’s the answer:
How Many Calories Are Burned In An Infrared Sauna?
Many online sources make statements that you’ll burn “600 kilo-calories” per half an hour during a sauna session. Other claim that you’ll only burn 50 kilocalories per half an hour. The problem with these arguments is that they don’t directly look at weight loss studies.
The good thing is that several studies looking at weight loss and fat loss during sauna sessions exist (13; 14; 15). None of these studies is perfect but they do allow for you and me to get closer to the correct answer. Let’s therefore explore the studies I’ve just quoted:
Study 1: 400 Kilocalories Per 40-Minutes
Using a 10-minute sauna sessions alternated with a 5-minute cooldown period for 4 times, for a maximum of one hour, leads to a body weight loss of 1.45 pounds if you’re sedentary (16). Of course, much of that weight loss is water weight and is never exclusively fat mass because of sweating.
Fortunately, calories burned were also measured to paint a more complete picture. Per 10-minute session, 73-134 kilocalories are burned. Taking an average of 100 kilocalories, that’s 600 kilocalories during a 1-hour period.
One methodological issue in this study is that there are cooldown periods of 5-minutes between sessions. Later sessions showed an increase in calories burned, so a straightforward 30-minute or 60-minute sessions almost certainly burns many more calories than 400. Another limit of this study is that sedentary individuals with a higher body mass and lower heat tolerance are used - these individuals will burn more calories during a sauna session than people with a normal weight.
Let’s move to the second study:
Study 2: 495 To 1125 Kilocalories During 60 Minutes Of Total Sauna Time
A second study investigates how both male and female athletes respond to three 20-minute sauna sessions (17). A sauna temperature of 70 degrees Celsius is used, and participants get a 5-minute rest interval between the three sessions.
Fortunately, all participants were re-hydrated before being weighed again. That way, water losses can be separated from losses of other bodily tissues such as muscle and fat.
Women lost 0.88 pounds of body weight and men 1.98 pounds of body weight. The only downside of this study is that despite the rehydration efforts after a sauna session, the water weight of the participants didn’t return to normal.
But, assuming that just one-quarter of that weight loss originates from tissues, and half of that body mass consists of fat loss. In that case, women lose 0.11 pounds of body weight and men 0.25. If one pound of body fat consists of 4,500 calories (1 gram of fat contains 9 kilocalories), then you’ll burn between 495 and 1125 kilocalories per 60-minute session.
That’s quite a nice number if you integrate infrared sauna sessions as an almost daily habit. You can also expect heavier fat losses from an infrared sauna compared to a traditional one because an infrared sauna is better able to increase the core temperature of your body.
Do keep in mind that these numbers are an oversimplified estimation on my part, because differences in water weight prevented direct measurements of fat losses during this study.
Next up, let’s place these results into more context...
There’s more to the story though - let’s explore another mechanism:
Intermittent Stress - Such As Sauna Sessions - And Hunger
There’s more to the story of burning calories than just the time you spend in a sauna though. Temperature stress also gives you feelings of well-being and reduces hunger - at least that has been shown in animal studies (18). Human studies, while not universally agreeing, show the same picture (19; 20).
You’ve probably noticed yourself that you’re less hungry if it’s summertime. Not only does the body need fewer calories to stay warm, the body also actively lowers calorie intake to avoid overheating. Heat is a byproduct of the energy-creation process of your mitochondria. Therefore, slowing these processes down by decreasing hunger allows you to burn more calories overall. Sauna while fasting is one way to achieve this, and incorporating both can further increase the fat loss potential of fasting.
Lastly, let’s put the discussion about how many calories burned in an infrared sauna in more context:
Factors Determining Calories Burned During Sauna Visits
There’s a lot more to the story though: not everyone burns the same number of calories during each sauna session. For instance, if you’ve got a higher body weight or are not adapted well to sauna visits (i.e., you have low heat tolerance), then visiting a sauna results in you burning more calories.
The human body actually tries to conserve energy because energy isn’t limitless. Elite athletes, for example, can perform more work while burning a lower number of calories. The same is true for sauna visits - the more experienced you get, the more calories you burn.
Calories Burned in an Infrared Sauna are Hard to Exactly Determine
Hopefully, this blog post has given you a good estimate of how many calories are burned in infrared sauna sessions.
One study showed that you burn 600 kilocalories in an hour-long session (if you don’t take breaks) while the other showed ~500-1,100 being burned. These numbers are imperfect though, and more research on this topic is needed.
And yet, the amount of fat you can lose is surprisingly high if you regularly commit to sauna sessions.
Let’s put these numbers into perspective: if you weigh 80 kilograms (~12.6 stone) then you’re burning 700 kilocalories during an hour of mountain biking, 450 during ballroom dancing, 650 during a run on average speed, and 350 playing golf. Given the 500-1,100 kilocalories estimate I’ve arrived at during a 1-hour sauna session, it shows that the human body has to work very hard to counter the extreme heating from the inside out (assuming you’re using an infrared sauna).
Of course, many people won’t last for a full hour in an infrared sauna and doing so isn’t necessary for great health benefits either. As I always reiterate, more is not necessarily better. In the same way, most people cannot run at a speed of 10 miles per hour for an hour, the same is true for spending time in a sauna.
Be kind to yourself. Burning calories is a great benefit to spending time in the sauna but not the be all end all of the health benefits you’ll experience. I recommend reading my blog pots on the benefits and downsides of infrared saunas to develop a broader perspective of the benefits you’re likely to experience besides losing body fat.
How Long Should You Stay in a Sauna For Weight Loss?
It’s recommended that you should start your sessions in a sauna for around twenty minutes, and move progressively from there.
Make sure to hydrate before entering the sauna, and monitor your body for anything resembling a headache to preempt the signs of dehydration.
To effectively use the sauna for the purposes of weight loss, it’s recommended that you stay longer for twenty minutes to achieve maximum results, but you consistently monitor your body for any warning signs.
As always, advice for the duration of your time inside a sauna, and if you sauna daily or not, should come from a qualified health professional that is familiar with your health and potential intolerances to heat exposure.
While there’s absolutely no substitute for a healthy diet and regular exercise, using an infrared sauna to consolidate all that hard work and shed a few extra calories can’t hurt.
What better excuse to take some you-time out, meditate, listen to some music or a podcast in the comfort of your home, knowing your body is soaking up the benefits while sweating out the fat, toxins and excess calories.