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Does Your Body Burn Calories to Keep Warm? | penajeramiyokoah's Blog


An old friend of mine asked me on Facebook recently whether or not a person burned more calories in a day-to-day fashion in cold weather. The idea was that if the body was cold, then it had to work to keep itself warm, so therefore, it would burn more calories.

The answer is one of those "Yeah, but not really" kinda situations.

If the body is cold (like it would be during the cold winter months), would it need to keep itself warm? Well of course it would. Would this burn more calories than "normal" at rest? Again, of course.

That's the "yeah" part. Now for the "not really"...

Here's the thing though - when it's cold out, are you going outside in shorts and a t-shirt? Nope. You're going out in pants, a coat, hat, etc. You're adding layers of clothing to keep your body warm. Your body doesn't have to do any real work.

If you're not adding layers, then likely, you're inside someplace that's heated. Again, something external is keeping your body warm. You don't have to do it yourself.

So any calories that the body would burn in keep itself warm are thereby negated simply by turning on the heat, throwing another log on the fire, or bundling up.

But, let's say you didn't do any of that. Would you burn more calories?

Yeah, you would. But likely not enough to really make a big difference. I know that Dr. Ellington Darden (of High Intensity Training fame) is a big proponent of having his trainees drink all their water ice-cold, or even eat ice chips instead. The thought being that the body is still getting hydrated, but has to work to warm up the fluids, and therefore burns more calories.

I think this is one of those ideas that's cool in theory, but pretty not super-useful in practice. I've not actually researched it (simply b/c I never cared to), but some of the stuff I've seen online has said that doing this kinda thing would only increase your caloric expenditure (how many calories you burned) by maybe 100-200 calories/day at best.

Nothing to jump and down about.

Honestly, when you think about it, the body does a lot more work in hot weather to keep itself cool than it does in cold weather to keep itself warm. When it's cold out, you keep bundling up until you get warm. When it's hot out, you can only do so much to cool off.

To keep warm when it's cold, the body shivers. To keep cool when it's hot, the body sweats.

Speaking generally, which do you do more of - shiver or sweat? Probably sweat. Which is why people talk about "sweating off the weight" instead of "shivering off the weight" (water loss due to sweating aside).

So while you might burn a couple extra calories this winter in your daily activities trying to keep warm, don't expect to come out in the spring with a new six-pack of abs that you didn't realize you had.

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