The naturally emerging question is whether spending time in an infrared sauna burns calories. The answer is a resounding “yes”. The next question, of course, is "how many?"
One of the most important models in weight loss is the term calorie deficit. A calorie deficit means if you burn more calories than you consume per day, you’ll lose weight. If the opposite is true, and you take in more calories than you burn, you’ll gain body weight. (1; 2; 3; 4)
For this blog post, I’ll use calorie deficit as the correct fat loss model and try to answer the burning question, "how many calories do you burn in an infrared sauna"?
Do You Burn Calories In An Infrared Sauna?
First, explore the concept of 'calories”. Calories are defined as the amount of energy needed to increase the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius. (5)
Energy is primarily created in your cells. (6; 7) 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.
Different types of intermittent stress can increase the size and number of mitochondria in your cells. (8; 9) Your body, therefore, becomes more efficient with the energy (calories) it takes in.
Types of intermittent stress include exercise, spending time in low-oxygen environments such as at altitude, and both low and high temperatures. Low-temperature stressors you may be familiar with such as ice baths, and of course, high-temperature stressors such as saunas. We've written another blog about the relationship between hot and cold therapies that you can read here.
During high-temperature stressors, 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 are burned in an infrared sauna”?
How Many Calories Are Burned In An Infrared Sauna?
Online sources vary for this answer, with some making statements that you’ll burn “600 kilo-calories” per half an hour, and others claiming that you’ll burn "50 kilo-calories" per half an hour. None of these sources online look at weight loss studies, so we've compiled a few for you.
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Study 1: 400 Kilocalories Per 40-Minutes
Four, 10-minute sauna sessions alternated with a 5-minute cooldown period, for a maximum of one hour, leads to a body-weight loss of 0.65 kg if you’re sedentary. (10) The study states that this body-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 400 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.
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. (11) 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 0.39 kg of body weight and men 0.89 kg 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 tissue, and half of that body mass consists of fat loss, then women lose 0.04 kg of body weight and men 0.11 kg. If 0.45 kg 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.
Study 3: A 4% Drop In Body-fat Percentage
A study that Clearlight Infrared® Saunas was involved in was conducted by the Binghamton University on weight loss. This study concluded that regular Clearlight Infrared® Sauna sessions resulted in a 4% drop in body-fat percentage over a 4-month period.
Of course, there is no substitute for regular exercise and nutrition when it comes to weight loss, but there is no denying that these results are amazing for simply sitting in a Clearlight Infrared® Sauna on a regular basis. We chose to be involved in this study because we believe in providing people with the best life possible.
I want to put these studies into more context, to help paint a better picture of how many calories are burned in a sauna session, and to do that, I must explain these other 2 mechanisms.
Intermittent Stress 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. (12) Some human studies show the same picture. (13; 14)
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, but 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.
Factors Determining Calories Burned During Sauna Visits
There’s a lot more to the story: not everyone burns the same number of calories during each sauna session. For instance, if you’ve got a higher body weight or you have a low heat tolerance, then visiting a sauna will result in you burning more calories.
Calories Burned In An Infrared Sauna Are Hard To Estimate
Hopefully, this blog post has given you a good estimate of how many calories are burned in infrared sauna sessions. As explained earlier, there are multiple factors that contribute to the number of calories burned per sauna session. These include time spent in the sauna, your BMI, gender, age, heat tolerance, fitness level, and hydration.
Following the studies provided, I estimate the average person will burn anywhere between 495 and 1125 kilocalories per 60-minute session. It's also important to note that in the Binghamton University study that used Clearlight Infrared® Saunas, it was concluded that 3 x 30-minute sessions per week dropped an average of 4% body fat over a four-month period.
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.
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.
If you're interested in an infrared sauna cabin for home, click here to view our range of full-spectrum saunas, far-infrared saunas, and outdoor saunas.
Clearlight would like to remind users that this should not be taken as direct medical advice, and you should always consult a licensed health practitioner before making any significant changes to your lifestyle or existing pain treatment regimen.