Does Sitting in the Sauna Burn Calories? Saunas Help You Lose “Fake” Weight

Weight Loss & Diets | Written by Nathan | Updated on 23 November 2022

A man with a towel around his waist is blurred in the background and has his left arm resting on a shelf while a woman in the foreground has a white towel around her entire body while sitting on a woodened paneled sauna and wondering "Does sitting in the sauna burn calories or is there really any health benefits?". arm resting on a shelf and a women, both wearing white towels, are sitting in a wood paneled sauna with their heads leaned back and eyes closed.

It is very likely that most have seen or experienced a sauna at a gym, but does sitting in the sauna burn calories or is it just a gimmick?

While there are benefits to relaxing in a heated room and saunas do burn some calories, instead of melting fat, saunas help you lose “fake weight” because it’s largely water based.

But how many calories does sitting in the sauna burn, is it worth the sweating, are steam rooms better, and if not for the burning of calories, do the health benefits make it worthwhile? 

Does Sitting in the Sauna Burn Calories or Just Make You Sweat? Do saunas help you lose weight?

Whether touted by gym regulars, seen in movies, or promised by manufacturers, many people have come to believe that sitting in a sauna helps you burn calories and in turn weight; so is this true? Does sitting in the sauna burn calories or does it just make you sweat?

Saunas range in temperature from 150 degrees to 195 degrees and will undoubtedly make a majority of the population sweat in a matter of seconds. In fact, studies have shown that a sauna set to 176 degrees can increase the internal temperature of a heat bather by almost 2 degrees in about 30 minutes.1

During this heat increase, the perspiration the body expels contains fluid that has been retained in the body’s cells called edema. Signs of edema are:

  • Tightness in joints
  • Visible swelling
  • Tight fitting jewelry or clothing
  • Feeling of fullness or stretched skin2

Subsequently, this internal temperature boost increases the heart rate by approximately 10 beats per minute for each degree.3 Because a hike in heart rate burns calories, this confirms that the sauna can burn calories; but is it significant?

How Many Calories Does 10, 30, and 60 Minutes of Sitting in the Sauna Burn? 

The amount of calories burned in a certain time frame can vary due to many circumstances, but we can project the calories burned in 10, 30, and 60 minutes if we consider the following:

  • As mentioned, a sauna of 176 degrees can increase the internal body temperature of 2 degrees within 30 minutes
  • On average, for every 10 beat per minute heart rate increase, most people burn roughly 1 calorie per minute

A women wrapped a white towel is sitting inside a wood paneled sauna. with her knees slightly bent, arms on her knees and hands to her relaxed face.

So if the internal body temperature of an individual increases by 2 degrees, and this increases the heart rate by 20 beats per minute, then we can assume this person will burn 2 more calories per minute than their baseline caloric expenditure. So sitting in the sauna burns 2 calories per minute in excess.

That being said the calories burned during each interval is seen below but this fails to consider if the progression is linear or not:

  • Calories Burned in 10 Minutes = 20
  • Calories Burned in 30 Minutes = 60
  • Calories Burned in 60 Minutes = 120

However, if burning 120 calories in an hour is feasible while soaking up the heat in the sauna, then why isn’t everyone using this method for fat loss? The truth is, most professional only suggest sitting in the sauna no more than 20 minutes and even this amount of time should be done with caution. 

How Long Should You Sit in The Sauna to Burn Fat & Lose Weight? 

It is critical to pay attention to safety warnings when it comes to spending time in the sauna and the amount of time it could potentially take to lose weight or burn calories can be hindered due to these suggested limitations. 

While sweating in a sauna, the body can lose pints of water in the form of sweat which, if done for too long, can cause dehydration. According to many experts, the maximum time to stay in the sauna is 20 minutes.4

According to the calculations above for calories burned while in a sauna, the maximum time frame of 20 minutes would burn about 40 calories at most. 1 pound of fat is 3500 calories, which means it would take 88 sessions of 20 minute sauna sessions to lose 1 pound of fat.

That being said, it is possible to see the scale go down after a sauna session due to the loss of water weight. Because of the quick “weight loss”, saunas are often used by athletes such as body builders or boxers to either define musculature or hit a desired weight point before an official weight in. 

Unfortunately, as soon as liquids are replenished, it is more than likely that weight will show up again, which is why the scale doesn’t matter when it comes to sauna weight loss.

Does Sitting in a Steam Room Burn Calories?

The question “Does sitting in the sauna burn calories?” has already been answered, does that mean there is a difference between a sauna and a steam room, and can calories be burned there as well?

A women wearing a white towel is sitting in a tiled steam room with her hands to her sides and her eyes closed and a relaxed expression on her face.

Many people don’t know that there is, in fact, a difference between a sauna and a steam room. A steam room only gets to 120 degrees fahrenheit, which isn’t nearly as hot as a sauna, but it’s humidity level is 100%. 

While both rooms will make occupants sweat, the steam room takes much longer to increase a user’s core temperature, in turn, burning even less calories than a sauna.5

Does One Type of Sauna Burn More Calories Than the Other? 

In addition to a steam room, there are also several different types of saunas. 

  • Wood burning
  • Electrical
  • Smoke
  • Infrared

Because calories burned is related to heart rate and heart rate relates to internal temperature, the main detail to observe when trying to pinpoint how many calories can be burned in each of these types of saunas is how high the temperature gets. 

Each of the above saunas has the ability to adjust the temperature levels, which in turn, affects calories burned. The higher the sauna temperature, the more calories will be burned regardless of sauna type but be careful of the dangers listed below.5

Additional Health Benefits of Sitting in a Sauna 

Although the information revealed above discredits the notion that anyone can lose any substantial amount of weight while using the sauna, there are many additional health benefits to utilizing a heat room.

  • Relaxation: Heat causes muscles and ligaments to relax, so much like a hot shower or bath can melt stress away, the sauna can do the same thing. 
  • Mobility: Muscles and ligaments that have been relaxed can help with fluidity and range of motion, which can make everyday tasks easier to perform.
  • Detoxification: Sweating is one of the body’s ways of ridding itself of impurities. Spending time in the sauna can help clear internal and external contaminants and leave users feeling refreshed and renewed.
  • Recovery: Some may wonder “why do I look fatter after working out?”; this is due to retained fluid, glycogen stores, and stress on the body. A post workout sauna session might be the ideal thing to aid recovery. Heat is proven to increase blood flow, which in turn, delivers oxygen throughout the body faster and speeds healing.6

Indirect Weight Loss Benefits

Is the sauna good for losing belly fat? No, not directly, but what the above benefits do is promote the ability to achieve weight loss. Feeling less tension and tightness in the mind and body as well as a quick recovery plan can make it easier to plan and execute a new diet and exercise routine.

So, while the answer to “Does sitting in the sauna burn calories?” is “not enough to matter”, it can definitely be the catalyst for a lifestyle change.

Sauna Risks and Safety Protocol

Just because there are many pluses to taking a steam, it was briefly mentioned above that the suggested time to stay in a sauna is no more than 15-20 minutes, but why exactly are those the limitations?

Unlike trying to use heating pads for weight loss or other direct heat methods, saunas subject the whole body to a very high temperature and there are several risks that go along with its use, so it is imperative to follow the safety protocol.

Safety Precautions for the Sauna

  • Do not consume any alcoholic beverages or take any medication that might affect the ability to sweat before or after a sauna sauna session.
  • Take time to cool down in a temperature regulated area.
  • Replenish fluids directly after a session; typically 2 to 4 glasses of water.
  • Avoid the sauna when under the weather; end a sauna session early if the feeling of lightheadedness, nausea, or dizziness occurs.4

Dangers of the Sauna

  • Because of the heat, blood circulates toward the skin and is drawn away from the body’s organs; while this is acceptable for a short amount of time, those suffering from illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure should confirm with a doctor whether a sauna is safe for use.4
  • Prolonged exposure to extreme heat, such as sauna, can cause dehydration. The body is able to function while under mild dehydration without much concern, but that can quickly change. Dehydration can cause a loss of water and electrolytes which can be extremely hazardous to all bodily functions and could prove to be fatal.

Does Sitting in the Sauna Burn Calories Safely?

Relaxing in a sauna does have its dangers, but it is properly regulated, it is a very safe activity. Assuming users looking to burn a couple of extra calories take heed of the warnings and ensure they are healthy before entering, they can enjoy the sauna and all of its benefits.

Best Sauna Regimen to Get Rid of Fat Fast

If a desperate soul is trying to figure out how to lose weight in a few hours, sweating it out in a hot room may help to drop, at most, a pound of water weight, but will do little else in a short amount of time. Instead, the best sauna regimen to get rid of fat fast would be in correlation with a workout routine.

Two women are sitting in a wood paneled sauna, both dressed in white towels, with their legs crossed, eyes closed and leaned back in relaxed positions.

Using the facts that were learned about how the sauna can aid in weight loss can help users to devise out a plan that will best assist them. Because heat therapy can benefit users before and after workouts, combining them with fitness routines can maximize fat loss.

Plan #1: Sauna for 5 minutes before cardio workout. While warming up muscles in the sauna is not a replacement for stretching, it can make it easier to get a good stretch in before a run or fitness class. Make sure not to stay in the sauna for too long before working out as it can cause overheating.

Plan #2: Post-workout, let the heat of the sauna induce recovery of soon to be sore muscles by relaxing and detoxifying for 15 to 20 minutes. This is especially beneficial for heavy lifting days where there is a high likelihood soreness will present itself the following day.

These regimens can improve performance and encourage recovery, which can ultimately lead to more effective workouts as well as potentially increasing the amount of time a person is able to exercise comfortably.

Is the Sauna an Effective Weight Loss Method? Are There Easier Ways to Burn Calories? 

Utilizing a sauna to lose weight is mildly effective at best;for those that really want to figure out how to lose weight without trying, consider some of these easier methods to burn calories:

  • Ditch Sugary Drinks – Instead of downing 150 calories with every soda, think about switching to a diet version. It may take a little bit of time to get used to, but hopefully knowing that cutting out 1 sugary soda a day can wipe out 4,500 calories per month is motivation enough because that’s over 1 pound gone with very little effort.
  • Get Moving – Whether it involves parking the car a little farther from the door, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or adding in a 10 minute stroll after each meal, getting in extra movement will contribute to losing excess calories. 
  • Focus on Feeling – Don’t be the person who has to eat as soon as an alarm goes off; listen to hunger cues given by the body to see if it is really hunger being felt. Sometimes we mistake thirstiness, stress, or being tired with thinking we are hungry. Take time to ask whether it is actually hunger being felt or something else. If legitimate hunger is being experienced, feed that hunger, but also practice stopping when actually full.
  • Skip a Meal – At the top of the list of trending diets, intermittent fasting is a simple way to slim down, especially if the thought of counting calories is too much to bear. There are several ways to successfully fast, but one of the most popular is to stop eating after 8pm and not eating again until noon the next day, which can cut out an entire meal’s worth of calories (as well as calories from a midnight snack).

Don’t fall prey to the gimmicks trying to convince sauna users that they can lose weight quickly. While the answer to “does sitting in the sauna burn calories?” is true to a very small extent, the reality is, burning any significant amount of calories will take some work, but there are still benefits that come with using a sauna which can aid in weight loss efforts.


References

1Leppäluoto, J. (1988). Human thermoregulation in sauna. PubMed. Retrieved November 13, 2022, from <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3218894/>

2Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. (2008, November 5). Causes and signs of edema – InformedHealth.org. NCBI. Retrieved November 14, 2022, from <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279409/>

3Maconochie, I. (2009, September). The relationship between body temperature, heart rate and respiratory rate in children. PubMed. Retrieved November 13, 2022, from <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19700579/>

4Harvard Health Publishing. (2020, May 14). Sauna Health Benefits: Are saunas healthy or harmful? Harvard Health. Retrieved November 14, 2022, from <https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/saunas-and-your-health>

5The North American Sauna Society. (2022). The North American Sauna Society. The North American Sauna Society. Retrieved November 14, 2022, from <https://www.saunasociety.org/sauna-types>

6Petrofsky, J. (2013, October 12). Moist Heat or Dry Heat for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. NCBI. Retrieved November 14, 2022, from <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3808259/>

About the Author

Nathan

Nathan has been a fitness enthusiast for the past 12 years and jumps between several types of training such as bodybuilding, powerlifting, cycling, gymnastics, and backcountry hiking. Due to the varying caloric needs of numerous sports, he has cycled between all types of diets and currently eats a whole food diet. In addition, Nathan lives with several injuries such as hip impingement, spondylolisthesis, and scoliosis, so he underwent self-rehabilitation and no longer lives with debilitating pain.