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Last modified on October 18th, 2021
Do saunas burn calories? Yes, a sauna session can burn extra calories, and below, we’ll talk a little more about why they help with burning calories and weight loss, how many you might expect to burn, and some of the other health benefits saunas have.
Do Saunas Burn Calories?—An Introduction
As we mentioned above, the answer to “do saunas burn calories” is yes, but how many can be a bit more of a gray area.
First, what exactly is a sauna? Saunas are a huge health craze right now, and it’s not because the concept is new. In fact, saunas have been used for centuries in global cultures. What’s making them so popular now, aside from the fact that they have health benefits, is more accessibility. Along with gyms and spas having traditional saunas, infrared saunas and sauna blankets are available online at reasonable prices.
Types of Saunas
There are different types of saunas.
One traditional sauna that you again may be most familiar with is wood-burning. These are also called dry sauna or Finnish sauna. Wood-burning saunas don’t have humidity inside, or at least not much. A wood stove powers these saunas, and that stove heats stones. The temperature in a wood-burning sauna might go anywhere from 140 to 200 degrees.
You pour small amounts of water over stones, creating steam.
A wood-burning sauna isn’t that affordable or convenient, so people don’t typically use these in their homes.
Along with a conventional sauna that’s Finnish-inspired, other types of saunas include:
- Infrared: You’ll most often see this type of sauna available for a relatively low cost online, and they’re one of our favorite types. An infrared sauna uses a lamp to generate electromagnetic radiation, heating your body. The temperatures are lower than other types of sauna, but the heat penetrates very deeply, so you can get all the health benefits.
- Wood: A wood heated sauna will burn wood to heat sauna rocks or generate embers. You put water on the rocks to add heat and humidity every few minutes.
- Electric: If you go to a sauna at your gym or when you’re at a spa, you might see that it uses an electric heater to heat rocks. There’s low humidity and dry heat similar to a traditional wood-burning sauna with an electric sauna.
- Steam: A steam sauna, such as a traditional Turkish sauna, uses steam from boiling water to create wet heat with a lot of humidity.
What to Know About Infrared Saunas
Since infrared saunas are so popular and widely available right now, it’s worth noting a few things about them specifically:
- When you go into a sauna, no matter the heat source, you’re going to have an increase in blood circulation, and sweating will increase.
- With an infrared sauna, you experience radiant heat, which can penetrate up to 1 ½ inches below your skin’s surface. Researchers think the wavelength of light in a far-infrared sauna impacts the bonds between the molecules in your cells, and that’s why infrared has the potential to be so beneficial.
- Since infrared wavelengths can penetrate so deeply, it’s healing even for the deep tissue and organs in your body in a way perhaps traditional saunas aren’t.
- When you’re in an infrared sauna, your skin temperature goes up while your core body temperature doesn’t increase as much, so you can stay in for longer and reap more of the benefits without the effects of extreme heat.
- Except for perhaps someone with a history of heart attack or cardiovascular disease, infrared sauna is thought to be safe for most people. If you have something like contact dermatitis, a sauna can make you uncomfortable, and you should make sure you’re well-hydrated with several glasses of water.
- A lot of people think using an infrared sauna helps their skin be more radiant and glowing, although this is largely anecdotal.
What Are the Benefits of Using a Sauna?
There’s a reason people have a history of using sauna that goes back thousands of years, and why they remain popular now. When you sit in a sauna, no matter the type or even the humidity level, your heart rate goes up. Your blood vessels widen.
Your circulation increases and the effects are similar to what happens with low-to-moderate exercise. These benefits go up the longer you use the sauna, although you should be careful about the periods of time you can comfortably tolerate and work your way up.
- Using a sauna can boost circulation and blood flow, which can, in turn, reduce pain. Regular sauna use may improve movement and range of motion, decrease muscle soreness and help with arthritis and joint pain. Sauna is a great natural option for chronic pain.
- Increasing your circulation can give you extra energy.
- When you sit in a sauna for a regular half-hour session, it promotes relaxation and can alleviate some symptoms of anxiety and promote feelings of well-being.
- Research shows sauna use can improve heart health. For example, there was a Finnish study of thousands of men over two decades of sauna usage finding regular sauna use indicated a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.
- Regular sauna sessions are associated with lower blood pressure and improved heart function.
- Using a dry sauna may help with certain health conditions, such as psoriasis.
- Asthma symptom relief may stem from sauna use because it can help open up your airways and loosen mucus and phlegm.
- The same Finnish study finding heart health benefits with regular sauna use also discovered that using a sauna can help reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Do Saunas Burn Calories?
So, with the above benefits in mind, back to the original question—do saunas burn calories?
- First, you may experience weight loss with regular sauna use, but it’s water weight. You sweat a lot. Therefore, you can drop pounds quickly, depending on how much excess water weight you’re dealing with.
- Additionally, saunas might help with modest calorie burn because the high temperatures raise your heart rate similarly to exercise, but you’re only going to burn slightly more calories than you would if you were sitting at rest.
- If you were a 150-pound woman, you might expect to burn around 70 calories for every 30 minutes you’re in a sauna depending on your metabolic rate.
Overall, you shouldn’t rely on a sauna for weight loss.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use one, though. Saunas do have some great mental and physical health benefits, and they can make you feel you’re best. If something makes you feel best and improves your quality of life, it’s worthwhile, right?
Saunas can help your heart health, lower your blood pressure, help more oxygen get to your muscles, and boost endorphins and feel-good hormones for your mental health.
There are also indirect ways saunas can help with weight loss. For example, if you’re working out hard and engaging in regular exercise, they can help with muscle recovery so you can see more benefits and progress.
Anytime you’re experiencing heavy sweating, make sure you have plenty of water and watch for signs of dehydration.