DrSugar Answers: Do I Burn More Calories Running in Cold Weather?

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Dear Doc Sugar,
As the weather heats up, I am wondering if I burn more calories running in the Winter when it is chilly or when temperatures are much, much higher? It feels much tougher working out in the cold, but is that just psychological? I have also heard that sitting in saunas raises your heart rate and therefore burns calories. Is that true?
— Climate Concerns

To see what DrSugar has to say about your caloric burn in hot and cold temperatures, read more.

It is true that different temperatures can affect your metabolism and lead to changes in calories burned. This effect is most dramatic at very cold temperatures when we shiver. Shivering alone can actually burn up to a few hundred calories an hour, but this effect of cold temperatures on metabolism is only significant if you’re actually shivering. It would have to be very cold to shiver while jogging, because so much body heat is generated from your exercising muscles. You will notice that sometimes you sweat less when jogging in the cold because the ambient temperature is keeping you cool.

Very hot environments, like saunas, can slightly increase your body’s baseline rate of calories burned, but it’s not dramatic. As discussed in this LA Times article, researchers have found that sitting in a hot tub burns slightly more calories than sitting on the couch, and we can extrapolate that a sauna would be similar to a hot tub. It is estimated that someone would burn 34 calories sitting in a hot tub for 20 minutes versus burning 23 calories sitting on the couch for the same amount of time. This is not a significant number of calories when you consider that walking for 20 minutes burns 100 calories. The long and short of it is that temperature extremes can affect calories burned, but not dramatically unless you are shivering for long periods of time.

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