- You can burn more calories when you exercise in cold weather than you would on a hot day, research shows.
- However, burning fat may not be an effective strategy, according to a training researcher.
- The cold can cause a change in hormones that control the appetite, causing you to eat more afterwards.
If you have ever shaken your way through a cold morning run or taken a snowy walk after the party during the holidays, you may have burned a few extra calories than you would on a hot day, research suggests.
But that does not mean that training in cold weather is an effective strategy for losing fat. The cold can slow down fat oxidation, causing you to burn less of it than you would with warmer workouts, according to Dr. Alexander Koch, Professor of Exercise Science at Lenoir-Rhyne University. The cold can also stimulate hormones that increase appetite, which can lead to eating those calories back, he told Insider.
The end result is that you can definitely enjoy running in cold weather and winter sports as part of a fitness routine, but defying a winter workout does not necessarily help you burn fat or
Exercising in cold weather can burn more calories, but leads to less fat loss
Evidence suggests that cold weather can increase the calorie-burning power of exercise because it requires energy just to keep the body warm, in addition to running the workout itself. An example is shaking, which is your body’s way of using movement to generate heat when it adapts to a cool environment.
A study of hikers in Wyoming showed that those who hiked in temperatures between 15-23 degrees Fahrenheit burned about 30% more calories than those who exercised when the weather was more pleasant 50 degrees.
But the extra calorie burn may not last, as exercise in itself generates lots of heat, especially if you are tied together, which means you do not have to shake or otherwise exert yourself to keep warm.
There is also a trade-off to use more energy in the cold: you may be burning less fat, some studies suggest.
A small study showed that men who cycled in temperatures between 50-70 degrees Fahrenheit burned more fat than when they performed the same exercise at -4 degrees Fahrenheit.
“This is probably due to vasoconstriction that occurs to conserve heat, which slows down the absorption rate of fatty acids in exercise muscles,” Koch said.
In other words, colder weather causes the blood vessels to constrict or become smaller, limiting how efficiently the body can break down fat and transport the resulting fatty acids to the muscles to gain energy.
You will probably be hungrier after a winter run than in warmer weather
While exercise in the cold may use a few more calories, it may not help a calorie deficit, as you will likely eat more to compensate for it, Koch said.
A study from 2017 showed that training in weather below 32 degrees Fahrenheit seemed to trigger a shift in hormones that control appetite. As a result, study participants ate between 44-84% more calories after exercising in cold environments than their peers who exercised in hot weather or simply rested.
Cool training needs a longer warm-up to prevent injury or lung irritation
Exercising in the cold can still be perfectly healthy, but if you choose to do so, it is especially important to warm up properly to reduce the risk of injury, Koch said.
“A warm-up for a workout literally raises body temperature, which increases mobility around the joints and increases the muscles’ ability to extract oxygen from the blood,” he said.
It will also help you breathe easier during exercise, as a sudden inhalation of cold, dry air can irritate the lungs.