The Finish Fix: Part One of Our Four Part Series - Sauna as Weight Loss

The Finish Fix: Part One of Our Four Part Series - Sauna as Weight Loss


During the cold winter months, sauna usage always experiences a revival of sorts. In most instances, a sauna is viewed as a luxury or amenity offered as part of your gym membership or housing complex. Few people realize just how beneficial sauna usage can be, and as a result fail to use sauna in a way that maximizes its benefits.

This article will explore the benefits of sauna and prescribe best practices to maximize its use. 

Sauna usage has been extensively studied throughout Europe, and it should come as no surprise that Finland has led the charge in these studies. Most Finish studies have focused on large populations over a long period of time to determine whether consistent sauna usage has significant health benefits compared against those who rarely take part in sauna. In various studies, sauna has been shown to have the following benefits: increase metabolism, increase fat loss, supports cardiovascular health, support recovery after exercise, boost the immune system, aid in sleep, increase cognitive function, and even increase life span.

By reviewing the list above, it may seem as though sauna is a “silver bullet” of sorts solving all problems from weight loss to living longer. The problem is that, as with many studies involving large populations over long periods of time, variable isolation becomes very difficult. For example, does sauna really increase lifespan or is it simply the case that those types of people who take part in sauna are more likely to eat healthy and exercise regularly? Simply put, correlation does not equal causation.

Despite this conundrum, there are at least four undeniable benefits from sauna usage: increased metabolic response, increased recovery post exercise, positive effects on sleep, and enhance immune system. These benefits have been shown to be caused by the body’s reaction to the sauna environment.

Before we start to discuss the benefits of sauna, we need to have a basic understanding of the sauna environment and the body’s response to this environment.

How sauna works:

A sauna environment is described as a heated room brought to at least 80°C up to 100°C. This extended and repeated exposure to the heated environment causes the body to force blood to flow from the core of our bodies to the extremities to prevent overheating. In simple terms, a sauna forces our bodies to turn our internal air-conditioning units on to keep the body cool.

A steam room, though it may not be as hot as a dry sauna, has the same basic effect. The more humid the air the easier it is to conduct heat, and as such the body needs to work harder in humid air at the same temperature to keep the body cool. This is why steam rooms are often much cooler than their dry sauna equivalents.

Although most of the scientific studies were conducted in a dry sauna, the benefits can be gained in both a steam room or a dry sauna.

Alright, now that we have a full understanding of how sauna works, let’s take a look at how sauna can be used as a means of weight loss.

In a 2019 study, researchers evaluated the effects of sauna on young men. The study involved placing men in four 10-minute sauna sessions followed by a 5-minute cool down between each session. On average, the participants in this study burned around 70 calories in the first 10- minutes session, but by the fourth session they were burning as much as double that to around 135 calories per 10 minute session.[1]

This study shows that, especially in the latter sessions, participants were burning some serious calories – on par with aerobic exercise – simply by sitting and sweating!

Learning this fact completely changed the way that I looked at sauna usage. If we think about our health goals, a lot of men are interested in using low intensity cardio – such as an incline walk on a treadmill – to lose fat. As you may know, low intensity cardio is the type of cardio exercise that is most linked to burning fat. There are three significant take aways from this study that we need to employ in our sauna routine.

First, the sauna environment needs to be hot enough. Make sure that the temperature gauge in your sauna is at least 80°C. You also need to make sure that you are staying in the sauna long enough for the body to be put under stress – which is usually about 10 minutes, though it may need to be a little bit longer depending on the temperature.

Keep in mind that sauna usage is a similar to going for run or any other aerobic activity. It is unlikely that you will be able to complete the “sauna set” as described below your first time doing it. Take your time and build up your endurance.

Also, the sauna should not be viewed – as it often is - as a way of losing weight that very day. Sure, you may lose some water weight in the sauna, but we all know that has nothing to do with losing body fat. Body fat loss is going to occur over a longer period fo time, which brings us to our second take away.

Second, one sauna session is not going to do very much. The body benefits from sauna in the third and fourth sets twice as much as it does in the first session. Think about each sauna session as a weight lifting set or perhaps a sprint in a speed training workout. The first set or the first sprint is generally easy, but you gain muscle and strength in the latter reps and the latter sets. The same applies to your sauna routine.

Developing a sauna routine, much like any other exercise routine, will bring about the most benefits when it is used on a regular basis and over a longer period of time. As with any exercise or recovery technique, the adherence to a regular routine renders the most benefits.

Third, you need to make sure that you are taking an adequate break (approximately 5 minutes) which will allow your heart rate to decrease and give your body a break to the you can then fully last the next session. Just like taking an adequate resting period between sets, the cool down session allows your body a break before it is stressed in the next session.

Allowing your body to have the cool down period in between each session will increase the likelihood you will be able to complete the next 10 minute session. The sauna sessions, much like sprints or sets while lifting, will increase in their intensity.

This research suggests that sauna can be used not only for a recovery but also for calorie burn and aiding in fat loss.


[1] Correlations between Repeated Use of Dry Sauna for 4 x 10 Minutes, Physiological Parameters, Anthropometric Features, and Body Composition in Young Sedentary and Overweight Men: Health Implications - PMC (


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