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

DrSugar is in the house and he's answering your health questions.

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,


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.

Have a question for DrSugar? Send it by private messaging me here, and I will forward it to the good doctor.

DrSugar's posts are for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment recommendations. Click here for more details.


Join The Conversation
inlove23 inlove23 7 years
I do agree that running in the cold is easier, the only thing I hate about it is how it makes my teeth/throat/lungs feel (I think my teeth hurt because I clench them). I used to really hate running, but Wii fit actually made me get over it. I hate running when it's super hot because I feel like I'm sweating a lot more than I should be in comparison to the distance which makes me want to quit.
uve uve 7 years
i want to know how many mailes are enough Because am running 9 mail in hours 7 day cause i feel galt if i stop
insanitypepper insanitypepper 8 years
I find it's easiest to run when the temp is between 30 and 50 degrees. Running in hot weather (or even warm weather if it's humid) is a big energy-suck.
nancita nancita 8 years
Wow, fascinating. I had no idea.
chloe-bella chloe-bella 8 years
I think it's way harder to run in hot weather as well. The ideal for me seems to be between 40-60 degrees. I actually read once (in Runner's World maybe) that for marathons, your time begins to suffer once the temperature gets over 62 degrees.
cmd0610 cmd0610 8 years
opps my comment got cut off . . .to finish: I was saying that I know I haven't run in extremely cold temps but as far as I've experienced I never had that feeling of total exhaustion after cold running as I get from hot running.
aimeeb aimeeb 8 years
Good to know...
tlsgirl tlsgirl 8 years
I agree that it's harder to run in hot temperatures. I get home soaked in sweat and totally exhausted. Running in cold temps (15 being the coldest I've experienced) is difficult because it the cold air hurts my lungs and exposed skin, but I feel like I recover more quickly when I get home.
cmd0610 cmd0610 8 years
I think it's waayyyyyyyyy harder to run in the very hot weather ( > 85F, in the sun) than at least 30F (the coldest I've ever run in). I feel way more exhausted after running in the heat and sun, maybe I didn't burn more calories but I feel like I worked a lot harder doing the same length run than in colder temps. I know I haven't run like in the <30F weather so I can't comment on the difficulty of running that that type of cold.
Allytta Allytta 8 years
does the actual sitting burn the calories, or is it our digestive systems/breathing and stuff?
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