Our office is freezing (everyone on our team wears the same gray blanket draped over their shoulders—it’s kind of become the office uniform), but is sitting in what feels like sub-zero temperatures doing anything positive for our bodies? And by positive, I mean burning calories. I had heard that shivering can actually help rev up your calorie-burning abilities, but I know sweating is what the body really needs to detox and shed weight. To get to the bottom of things, I turned to the experts for the scoop.
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If you’re sitting, like at work or in a sauna: If your office is kept cold like ours, it may actually doing something beneficial, even if it’s very slight. “When temperatures drop, our bodies compensate for the cold and use up more energy (kilocals) to keep us warm,” says celebrity trainer Ramona Braganza. “That includes sitting in the cold, and if you start shivering, then you are burning even more calories, but it’s a very small amount.” And in warmer environments? According to Jamie Costello, director of fitness at Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa, if you’re sitting on the beach or in a sauna, the energy required to sweat is relatively low and will not contribute to fat loss.
If you’re exercising, like running in cold weather or doing hot yoga: Turns out hot temperatures are the best for working off your last meal, according to the pros. “The average person will burn more calories in hot vs. cold weather because of the extra effort required to dissipate the heat produced during exercise,” says Costello. “In fact, close to 70 percent of the energy produced during exercise is given off as heat! Exercise in warm weather induces the sweating mechanism at a much higher level. When it’s cold and you are moving, your muscles will still produce heat, but the cold will dampen the effort needed to reduce your core temperature.”
“While you may sweat in a hot yoga class, it is water weight that your body loses, unless the class is vigorous enough to become an aerobic (using oxygen) workout,” says Braganza. “A vinyasa flow would classify as this type of workout rather than a yoga class that focuses on lengthy static posture holds.”
Another interesting point from Costello: “It is important to note that Bikram yoga does not burn as many calories as many hope due to the extra heat added to the class. Brian Tracy, a professor with the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University, measured caloric burn during a single 90-minute Bikram yoga session. His study found women burned 330 calories and men 460 per 90-minute session, which is about the same as walking at about 3.5 miles per hour for 90 minutes. This amount is far less than the 1,000 calorie per hour estimates that have been claimed by many involved in this practice. Bikram yoga still provides many benefits to the mind and body, but should not be thought of as a high calorie-burning exercise.”