Whether you're sweating it out in a hot yoga class or running a 10k in the blazing sun, you might be wondering, "Do you burn more calories in the heat?" Depending on who you ask, some experts point to a higher calorie burn in the heat, while others say cooler temperature is the winner.
When it comes to burning more calories in hot temperatures vs. cold temperatures, there are studies and claims on both sides. However, one thing is for sure: Exercising in any temperature burns calories.
Exercising in Extreme Heat
Hot, cold, and everything in between seems to stir up controversy when talking about the maximum calorie burn during exercise. In fact, Dr. Anthony Kouri, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Toledo Medical Center, tells LIVESTRONG.com that after looking at all the research, arguments can be made for either side of this debate. However, he does point out that exercising in moderate, warm climates seems to be the best condition for burning calories and shedding fat.
Dr. Dennis Cardone, DO, chief of Primary Care Sports Medicine, NYU Langone Health, tells LIVESTRONG.com that hot weather can result in a higher calorie burn since the cardiovascular system has to work harder to keep the body cool and maintain a steady body temperature. On the downside though, exercising for extended periods of time in hot temperatures can lead to heat-related illnesses, including heatstroke.
Pounding the pavement in the heat is also likely to produce more sweat than running in the colder temps during the winter, which often brings up the question: "Does hot weather make you lose weight?" While excess sweating often leads to an immediate loss on the scale, it's related to water loss, not fat loss from burning more calories.
Exercising in Frigid Weather
Bundling up and heading outdoors for a jog or a day of cross-country skiing is an excellent way to stay fit during the winter months. And if you're tracking calories or trying to lose weight, you might be asking yourself: "Does cold weather cause you to burn more fat or do you burn more calories in the heat?"
The Mayo Clinic points out that you may have a higher level of brown fat, which is calorie-burning fat, than you do white fat when exercising in cold temperatures. Cooler temps often allow you to work out longer than sweltering temperatures, which means that you're going to burn more calories because you're spending more time moving your body.
That said, frigid temperatures or temps well below freezing, just like extreme heat, may shorten your workout and result in fewer calories burned. "When you exercise in the extremes of temperature, either hot or cold, you cannot work out as long, and you do not burn as much fat," says Dr. Kouri.
Plus, exercising in cooler temperatures often causes you to shiver as a way of warming up, and when you shiver, your body moves to increase your temperature, and consequently, you burn more calories. Dr. Kouri explains that depending on how you are dressed, shivering can burn up to 400 calories per hour. Unfortunately, your glycogen stores are usually depleted quickly by shivering, leaving you feeling fatigued and unable to sustain any exercise for very long in the extreme cold.
Working Out in the Heat
Higher calorie burn or not, there's a good chance you plan on continuing your fitness routine during the warmer months of the year. With that in mind, there are some safety tips to consider before you tackle your workout in the heat:
- Hydrate. When you exercise in hot conditions, you're going to sweat. That's why the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests weighing yourself before and after activity to see how much water weight you lost through sweating. To replace those fluids, they recommend 2 to 3 cups of water for each pound of weight loss.
- Dress for the heat. Clothes that keep your body warm and wick away sweat are ideal for exercising in the cold. Dressing in layers is often a requirement since you start out cold and end up sweating by the end of a workout.
- Change your schedule. If you can, consider performing any outdoor exercises in the early morning or later at night when the temperatures have cooled down. If you're working out in a gym with air conditioning, the time of day is not as critical. Just make sure to hydrate before, during and after physical activity.
- Make it short and sweet. When planning any physical activity during the hotter months, make sure to account for a shorter duration and less intensity, at least in the beginning. The Cleveland Clinic recommends easing into warm-weather workouts, both in terms of time and intensity, to allow your body time to acclimate. That said, once your body does acclimate, you may still need to make adjustments by reducing the intensity and duration, especially during the hottest part of the day.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Exercise Safely in Hot Weather"
- Cleveland Clinic: "5 Best Safety Tips for Your Outdoor Summer Workouts"
- University of Toledo Medical Center: "Dr. Anthony Kouri, MD: Personal Interview"
- Mayo Clinic: "Outside Exercise in Cold Conditions"
- NYU Langone Health: "Dr. Dennis Cardone, DO: Personal Interview"
- Cell Metabolism: "BAT Thermogenesis: Linking Shivering to Exercise"