There’s a line of thinking that working out in cold weather burns more calories than exercising in warm weather. But is that something we tell ourselves as motivation for that frosty morning run in the dead of winter? Or is there some science behind it?
Well, it’s a bit complicated. You might think because it’s cold out, your body is putting in even more effort to keep you warm, but exercise already raises your body temperature (whether it’s cold or hot out). In fact, your body uses more energy when exercising in hot weather because it’s working even harder to cool your body down.
But being cold has its benefits, too. It’s not going to be comfortable, though. According to the American Council on Exercise, you have to be shivering in order to increase caloric expenditure. When you’re so cold that you’re shivering, your body is working hard to regulate your temperature, and that’s where “brown fat” comes in.
Your body has two main types of fat: white and brown. “White fat stores energy as large fat droplets, while brown fat has much smaller droplets and is specialized to burn them, yielding heat,” states the National Institute of Health. The thinking is that when your body is cold and shivering, the brown fat in your body will burn energy to generate heat, in turn burning calories.
Previously, researchers believed that newborns only had brown fat (because they can’t warm their bodies by shivering), but most recently, studies located brown fat below the shoulder blades and in the upper torso of adults. According to the Cleveland Clinic, these findings prompted scientists to learn more about brown fat and how it can be used to burn more energy and help with weight loss.
While shivering might cause you to use more energy than if you were in warmer weather, the American Council on Exercise says that “the actual calories burned due to shivering depends on the temperature, how long the person was exposed, and the type of clothing.”
The gist? Neither cold nor hot temperatures are a sure bet when it comes to maximizing your calories burned. More research needs to be done on how to use brown fat effectively for weight loss, if possible, and different factors contribute to how many calories you lose in cold or hot weather. Think about it: You might have to be shivering a long time for it to pay off. And is that really safe? Our take: Stay active no matter the climate (as long as you’re taking the right precautions) and eat right.
If you are looking to get moving when the temperature drops, make sure you’ve got the right gear for it. Here are some of our picks for cold-weather activewear.
JoyLab Trench Jacket ($40)
While you might not use this for running, it’s perfect for throwing on before or after a workout.
Nike Pro Warm Hollywood Tights ($60)
These leggings have thermal panels to keep you warm, while the sweat-wicking material will keep you dry.
Athleta Speedlight Top ($64)
This long-sleeve top is breathable and sweat-wicking. It has thumbholes and hem-grippers for a comfortable wear that lets you work out without having to worry about your shirt staying in place.
Sweaty Betty Fast Track Jacket ($140)
This lightweight and breathable jacket will make your winter morning run more comfortable. It has reflective details for safety.
Under Armour Women’s Cold Gear Authentic Pants ($30)
These leggings have a dual-layer fabric that’s warm on the inside and fast-drying on the outside.
JoyLab Hooded Cozy Layering Sweatshirt ($30)
This hoodie is another option for layering before or after the gym.
Athleta Tempo Camo Headband ($24)
You’re going to need to keep your ears and head warm, too. This headband will do the trick.
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This article originally appeared on The Thirty
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