Picture sitting in a hot, quiet sauna, letting all the worries of the day you just had wash away. For some countries and cultures, sauna is more than just a wellness option at the local gym or spa—it’s a way of life. Take Finland for example: In 2020, the Scandinavian country’s sauna culture was added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
From dry saunas to steam saunas to infrared saunas, there are a few different types of saunas out there, but what they all have in common is that sitting in one for a while is probably going to make you sweat. And since other calorie-burning fitness activities like running, playing sports, and doing HIIT workouts can get those beads of sweat rolling down your body too, it makes many people wonder, “Do you lose calories in the sauna?”
For those trying to lose weight, being able to burn calories in the sauna would be a win-win, seeing as it could benefit both your mental and physical health. Let’s step into the world of saunas to see what really goes in with the body!
Calories Burned in the Sauna
High temperatures make your heart beat faster, and since the average temperature in a sauna is between 150 degrees Fahrenheit to 190 degrees Fahrenheit, your heart is going to be working harder than it would if you were just sitting down. Generally speaking, there’s a relationship between your heart rate and the number of calories burned.
Many people estimate that you can burn around 1.5 to 2 times the amount of calories in a sauna than you would sitting. It’s difficult to pinpoint an exact, overarching number because your body type, your weight, your age, the exact temperature of the sauna you’re in, and how long you stay in the sauna can all affect how many calories you actually burn.
Note: Do you count your calories as part of your health journey? Calculate your optimal calorie intake per day with this calorie calculator.
Calories Burned in a Steam Room
Dry saunas create a dry heat from a stove (could be wood, gas, or electric), resulting in a low-humidity environment. On the other hand, steam rooms, or steam saunas, create a humid environment that has wet air (and walls wet due to condensation) often using generator pumps filled with water.
While they’re different in how they create heat and what kind of heat is made, steam rooms burn calories in the same way by increasing your heart rate. While a steam room won’t necessarily help you burn any more calories than other types of saunas, they do have a special benefit: they can help alleviate congestion in your sinuses and lungs since the moist air can loosen and thin mucus.
How Much Weight Can You Lose in a Sauna?
Before you decide to leave behind your fitness routine in favor of going to the sauna, it’s important to know that whatever weight you might lose in a sauna is going to be water weight. That means that once you start to drink fluid again after your sauna session (which is important to do so you don’t get dehydrated), you’ll probably notice that you’ve gained that weight back.
Given that, you’ll see why it isn’t a good idea to use the sauna as some kind of miracle weight loss room. Instead, you can use it as one component of a well-rounded wellness routine and appreciate it for its other health benefits (more on that in a second!).
Infrared Sauna and Weight Loss
Gaining in popularity these days, particularly among celebrities, an infrared sauna is one that creates its heat through infrared lamps, directly heating up your body rather than the air like with traditional saunas. Because of this difference, some people believe that this type of sauna burns fat, not just water weight. Unfortunately, there is not enough science out there to backup this claim and more research needs to be done.
Weight loss considerations aside, some people prefer infrared saunas to traditional saunas because they’re at a lower temperature, making them easier to sit in for an extended period of time if you don’t have as high of a heat tolerance.
Other Health Benefits of the Sauna
Just because the sauna isn’t going to help you magically shed pounds to reach the healthy weight you want, that doesn’t mean you should write off what it can do for your health. Saunas have been shown to help in a variety of ways, including soothing muscle soreness, reducing chronicle pain and fatigue, decreasing inflammation, removing toxins through sweat, raising metabolism, and boosting the immune system.
Looking at the mental benefits, saunas can help you relax and reduce stress and anxiety, which in turn may actually lower your risk of developing heart disease. If you’re feeling low, you may find that a little bit of time in the sauna has actually boosted your mood!
Health Considerations with Sauna Usage
While saunas are considered safe for most people, it’s always a good idea to consult your doctor before using one if you haven’t done so already. For example, those who should be careful of overheating, like people who are pregnant and those aged 65 years and older, should take extra care with how often and how long they use the sauna.
How Much Time to Spend in the Sauna
Say you’re ready to enjoy that sauna life… great! As you don’t want to risk getting dehydrated, the general rule is to stay in the sauna for about 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Those who are using the sauna for the first time ever should try for just five to 10 minutes until they can gradually get used to what it’s like.
So, how will you know how much time has passed while in a sauna? Most saunas have small hourglasses on the walls with minute markings on them that you can turn once you sit down to track your time inside. Remember: Sitting in a sauna should be a relaxing experience, not one where you’re counting down the minutes until you can escape. If you’re not feeling comfortable in the sauna, it’s totally okay to leave before your time is up.
Rules for the Sauna
After you’ve finished with a sauna session, you should cool down with a quick shower and wait before going back into the sauna. How long exactly you should wait varies depending on who you ask, but some say at least 10 minutes while others recommend around 30 to 45 minutes. During that waiting period, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
If you start to feel dizzy, you develop a headache, or you get nauseous while you’re in the sauna, you should leave the sauna and cool down. Make sure to rehydrate as well with some water!
Get Your Sweat On
While you can burn calories in sauna sessions, you may not burn as many as you’d hoped just by sitting there inside. That being said, there are still plenty of reasons why it can be good for your physical and mental health to get your sweat on in one. As long as your doctor gives you the green light, try a few different saunas to find your favorite and see how your wellness may change for the better!
Cindy is a freelance writer and editor with previous experience in marketing as well as book publishing. Along with her content writing for a diverse portfolio of clients, Cindy’s work has been featured in Thrillist, The Points Guy, Forbes, and more.