As we move further and further into summer, a lot of people find themselves asking, “Do you burn more calories in the heat?” Working out outside can certainly feel like a harder workout than moving indoors to jog on the treadmill, but does it actually do more for you? Let’s take a look at the relationship between working out and temperature.
The Skinny on Hot Workouts
It seems like there are a lot of options for hot workouts these days. Hot yoga and hot Pilates are both popular, and with summer in full swing, any outdoor jog can instantly become a hot workout. As anyone who’s attended a Bikram session or gone on a long run at noon in July knows, adding heat to a workout can make it feel much more intense. Suddenly, even things that were relatively easy for your body before become more difficult. If you’ve ever gone hiking in the height of summer, you’ve probably found that just putting one foot in front of the other can become supremely difficult.
But what exactly does this mean in terms of weight loss? Do you really burn more calories when it’s hot out? At first blush, it might seem so. If you’ve ever weighed yourself before and after a strenuous workout in the heat, you know that sometimes you can see dramatic differences. This leads some people to thinking that exercising in extreme heat is a good way to lose weight.
Unfortunately, nearly all that extra weight is likely to be water, not fat. It’s true that some sources suggest that working out in the heat may be able to help you burn more calories, because your body uses more energy trying to keep itself cool. However, the difference will probably be relatively slight, and the overwhelming majority of the weight loss you experience from working out in the heat simply comes from water loss.
Potential Benefits of Heat
Even if exercising in the heat doesn’t do much to help you burn more calories, are there any other benefits to working out in extreme temperatures? Some people suggest that copious sweating of the sort that you get during hot workouts can help with detoxing. However, others contend that this sort of sweating does not help you detox at all, pointing out that detoxing is largely the job of your kidneys and arguing that it doesn’t have much to do with the skin or sweating. If you choose to work out in the heat, make sure you drink enough water. Otherwise, you could easily become dehydrated, which can have serious health repercussions.
Another potential benefit that is sometimes mentioned by proponents of hot workouts is an increase in flexibility. People who go to hot yoga classes are sometimes amazed by how much deeper they can sink into their poses, because the added heat makes their muscles that much more pliable. However, this is definitely a double-edged sword. There are also a lot of people who have injured themselves by overstretching themselves during these classes. It actually takes quite a bit of discipline not to overdo it in the heat, and it is far safer to increase your flexibility gradually through stretching. If you choose to work out in the heat, make sure that you’re careful and don’t push yourself past your limits.
There is some suggestion that working out in the heat may be able to increase performance in both hot and cold environments. A study done at the University of Oregon and published in The Journal of Applied Physiology tested the ability of competitive bike riders to perform in a 55-degree room. One group of bikers trained in a cool setting and the other trained in the heat. At the end, both groups were tested in a 55 degree room. The group that trained in the heat experienced significant improvement while the group that trained in the cool did not. However, it is important to be aware that this study dealt with highly trained and competitive athletes, and its findings may not be 100% applicable to more casual exercisers.
Finally, exercising in the heat may be able to help build mental toughness. The ability to keep going in the heat may be able to give you a competitive edge when the chips are down. However, none of that is going to be very helpful if you give yourself heat stroke first.
Regardless of whether or not you’ll burn more calories, if you decide to work out in the heat, make sure you pay close attention to your body. As mentioned earlier, don’t push stretches further than is safe, and make sure that you drink enough water. In the heat, you’re at a much greater risk of dehydration than in cooler temperatures. Watch for symptoms like dizziness, confusion, cramps, nausea and weakness. If you experience these, it’s time to get some water and cool off.