Those who know me, know that weight loss and calories are not typical topics of discussion for me. I much more enjoy discussing muscle function, movement, and generally speaking, just making the most of each day. However, today is the day that I grab my mega phone and shout from the mountain top: let’s talk about calories!
Currently, I am particularly interested in cold weather exercise, given the fact that I have been working out in very cold weather lately. I recently commented to a fellow boot camp participant, “I like to think we are burning extra calories this morning.”
So, myth or truth? Do we burn more calories when we engage in cold weather activities?
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. That shiver does give us an uptick, but is it enough?
Overall, it doesn’t make that much of an impact. Once your body is warm, the cold weather has little to no impact on the your caloric burn. Our bodies are amazing machines and are quite competent at keeping us warm. The warmth created during exercise overrides the brisk winter air on the outside.
The very slight increase in caloric burn may be an added bonus for those who prefer to dress lightly and be so cold that their body shivers in an attempt to fend off hypothermia. If you do chose this route, just know that your body will start to produce higher levels of cortisol — which is a stress hormone and therefore quite counter-productive.
The wiser decision is to dress appropriately for cold weather exercise and stay hydrated. Keep your head, hands, and feet dry and covered.
Go have some fun. Outdoor cold weather exercise is a great way to fend off the “winter blues” and increase energy levels, which also tends to be low during cooler months.
Stay warm, friends!