CPR First Aid

Burning Calories in Cold vs. Hot Weather

Which burns more calories: staying in the cold weather or hot weather? This is a question that many people have. It depends on a variety of factors, including how active an average person is and what the temperature is outside. There are some studies that can help us understand how many calories a person burns in different weather conditions and their effects on the body’s metabolism.

What are Calories?

A calorie is a unit of measurement that represents the amount of energy in food. The number of calories in a food item indicates how much energy your body can get from eating or drinking it.

The term ‘calorie’ actually comes from the Latin word for heat, which is calor. When early scientists were working to understand how energy works in the body, they realized that it was possible to measure the heat that was produced when food was burned. From this, they inferred that there must be a relationship between the energy in food and the heat it produces.

Today, we use a more sophisticated understanding of calories to determine the amount of energy in food. However, the basic principle is still the same.

Calorie measures food energy. Indicates energy from eating. 'Calorie' from Latin 'calor'.

Purpose of Calories

The human body requires a constant supply of energy in the form of calories. Calories are units of energy that come from the food and drinks we consume. Our bodies use calories for many purposes, including:

  • To maintain basic body functions like heart rate, breathing, and cell growth
  • To fuel physical activity
  • To support cognitive functions like learning and memory

The amount of calories we need varies depending on our age, sex, height, body weight, and activity level. Most adults need between 1,600 and 2,400 daily calories.

How Does the Body Burn Calories?

The body burns calories through a process called metabolism. Metabolism converts food into energy. The body uses this energy to perform various functions, such as breathing, digesting food, and moving.

When the body needs more energy than it has available, it will start to burn calories. First by burning calories from glycogen, which is a type of sugar that is stored in the liver and muscles. Once the glycogen is depleted, the body will start to burn fat.

More calories are burned when performing physical activities. These range from aerobic daily activities such as walking or running, to more intense activities like strength training, interval training, and resistance training. Other than exercise though, any type of movement or activity done throughout the day expends these calories.

Additionally, the process of digestion by the body burns calories. The body will burn more calories digesting protein than it will digest carbohydrates.

The body burns calories via metabolism. It converts food into energy for breathing, digestion, and movement.

Factors That Affect Calorie Burn

There are a few different factors that come into play when burning calories.

Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)

The first is your basal metabolic rate, which is the number of calories your body burns just to keep you alive and functioning. This accounts for about 60-70% of the calories you burn in a day. BMR is also known as resting metabolic rate or RMR.

According to Mayo Clinic, factors that affect calorie burn depend on each individual’s metabolism, including your:

  • age
  • sex
  • muscle mass
  • height
  • genetics
  • overall general health
  • body composition and body size
  • physical activity demands

The more muscle mass you have, the higher your basal metabolic rate will be because muscles require an increase calorie expenditure to maintain than fat. In the same way, less muscle means there are fewer calorie needs. Genetics also plays a role, as some people are just naturally gifted with higher metabolisms.

Thermic effect of food

It is the number of calories your body burns in order to digest the food you eat. This only makes up about 10% of your daily calorie burn.

The thermic effect of food is pretty simple – the more total calories you eat, the more your body has to work to digest them, and thus the more calories you end up burning.

Physical activity 

Accounts for the remaining 20-30% of the calories you burn in a day.

Physical activity is probably the most variable factor when it comes to burning calories. Obviously, the more active you are, the more calories you’ll burn. But things like high-intensity activities, total duration, and even just how often you move throughout the day all play a role in how many calories you end up torching.

In general, most people burn somewhere between 1,200 and 2,000 calories per day just by living and being active. But of course, everyone is different and there are a lot of variables that can impact how many calories you burn in a day. A person’s choices and activities affect their total daily energy expenditure.

Effect of Temperature on Burning Calories

The temperature has an impact on how many calories an individual burns. Both cold and heat can increase calorie burning. An individual’s metabolism is put under additional strain whether they exercise in the heat or shiver in the cold. The temperature at which a person’s internal organs function most effectively is known as the ‘core body temperature.’ This piece of information is useful for weight management and can aid in weight loss plans when reaching for one’s healthy weight goal.

The body’s temperature is not constant throughout, and measurements taken from within have a tendency to be greater than those collected near the skin. Body temperatures range from 36.4°C to 37.2°C. The ideal core body temperature is thought to be 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit or 37.7 degrees Celsius. Your body uses correction mechanisms when this temperature deviates significantly. One of these measures is sweating, although sweating doesn’t increase calorie burn on its own. Only your body is cooled.

Calorie Burn in Hot Weather

According to a professor of cardiovascular medicine and sports cardiology at McGovern Medical School in Houston, John P. Higgins, you burn more calories when it’s hot outside because your heart needs to work more to pump blood. Your muscles are consuming more energy and using sweat as a means of cooling you off.

Your body temperature rises while you exercise to accommodate increased physical demands. Your body’s heat regulation system causes you to sweat and release heat into the atmosphere in order to prevent overheating. Furthermore, your circulatory system’s working harder to transport blood to your skin to cool you off may be an indication that you are burning more calories.

Your body will use carbs as its primary energy source during exercise before switching to fat. The combination tends to lean more toward carbohydrates as exercise intensity rises. For instance, it takes more effort to run a mile in 9 minutes when it’s hot as opposed to chilly. Therefore, you would anticipate that the heat would cause a greater utilization of carbs.

But the heat has a variety of physiological effects. Therefore, we enquire as to whether our bodies’ preferences for fuel alter with the heat. This study found that exercising while it’s hot (about 40 degrees Celsius) boosts the oxidation of muscle glycogen. Additionally, it results in less body fat being burned overall when compared to the same activity intensity at 20 degrees.

Calorie Burn in Cold Weather

In contrast with the statements mentioned above, many studies state that you can also burn more fat in cold temperatures. According to Dr. Alexander Koch, professor of exercise science at Lenoir-Rhyne University, the cold can inhibit fat oxidation, causing you to burn less of it during exercise than you would in warmer workout environments. He also mentioned that the chill can also trigger hormones that increase appetite, which might cause one to increase calorie intake resulting in re-consumption of burned calories, and maybe even weight gain. As a result, while you can undoubtedly enjoy winter sports like cold-weather jogging as part of your exercise program, doing so won’t necessarily result in fat loss or weight loss.

Exercising in cold weather can burn more calories because it requires more energy to keep one’s body warm than it does to perform the exercise itself. One instance is shivering, which is your body’s method of producing heat through movement in response to a cool environment. Does shivering burn calories? According to Wyoming Hiker research, people who climb in temperatures between -9 and -5 degrees Celsius burn roughly 30% more calories than people who exercise in warmer weather, like 10 degrees.

Cold temps can burn more fat. Dr. Koch says cold hinders fat burn during exercise. Chill can boost appetite hormones, leading to calorie intake.

The Bottomline

Calories serve different purposes in the body and several factors come into play in metabolism. Ambient temperature can be one contributor to burning calories, however, we must look into the body’s demands to maintain the core body temperature. While most people would associate burning calories with weight loss, the former may not always mean burning fat.

With that said though, it is vital to know how temperature can affect calories burned. This is useful across the board; from those struggling with obesity and even those who want to build muscle. Weather and temperature are not the only important things though. Combining it with calorie deficit or calorie counting, exercise, supplements, and a meal plan with a nutritionist, the health benefits will become apparent quickly.

Although burning calories has rare negative effects, there can be underlying conditions that can lead to unexpected symptoms, so it is best to be prepared in emergency situations. Some people may also potentially push the limit on the way to achieving their goals, resulting in a disastrous aftermath. Exercising in cold or hot weather, plus dieting, may lead to dizziness, fainting, and even seizures. If you or a loved one you know is going through this, it is best be equipped with the right skills if an emergency occurs. First aid training offers the foundation that can aid you in many critical and life-threatening situations. If you are interested in enrolling in a first aid course in Level 1/174 Gilles St, Adelaide 5000 , contact CPR First Aid (RTO 21903) for more information.

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