If holiday weight gain is at the top of your “naughty” list this season, you may be looking for extra ways to rev up your metabolism and keep your egg-nog-and-turkey-loving self in check. And if this healthy holiday regiment includes chilly outdoor runs (either at home or while visiting friends or relatives), you may be wondering about an age-old rumor: that exercising in the cold burns more calories. But is it true?
That seems to depend on your definition of “true.” Because it’s true that being cold (to the point of shivering) can burn extra calories–but how many is enough to make this myth a reality worth noting?
According to a University of Utah study reported on by the New York Times, basal metabolic rate (that’s how many calories you burn just by existing, without expending any energy) does increase ever so slightly in colder temperatures–which means just trying to stay warm requires more work from your body. And it increases noticeably if you get so cold that you begin to shiver, which is actually quite a bit of work for your body.
So if you were to stand outside, without your warm workout gear on, and shiver for a while, you could conceivably burn some extra calories.
However, once you start moving, your body does a pretty good job of keeping itself warm–and if you’re exercising to the point that it’s warming you, cold air isn’t going to give you that much of a boost. In spite of the fact that you’re inhaling cold air (which your body then works to warm) which may burn negligible numbers of additional calories, if you’re strenuously exercising, it’s like that the exertion far outweighs any additional impact from the chilly environment.
Still, some periods of time being very cold will get your body moving involuntarily. During the warm-up stage of a run or other outdoor workout (including, say, shoveling the driveway or even skiing), the cold (particularly if it’s so cold that you shiver) might result in more calories burned than if you, say, were on a treadmill in a climate-controlled environment.
Overall, it seems like the cold weather may boost your caloric burn slightly–just not enough to make up for, say, a Thanksgiving feast that included multiple servings of pie. But regardless, getting some outdoor exercise (which could be as minimal as making a snowman or going sledding) when you can is a guaranteed way to boost your metabolism and fend off Thanksgiving-induced weight gain.
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