Cold-induced thermogenesis: How many extra calories can it help you burn away?

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As soon as our bodies cool down, even if just by a few degrees, they start burning away more calories to keep us warm. This process is also known as cold-induced thermogenesis[1].

Thermogenesis basically means means the generation of heat in our bodies, and cold is just one of the many triggers that can start this process.

In this article, I’ll go over the science that shows indoor and outdoor temperatures can have a big influence on how many calories we ultimately burn away through cold-induced thermogenesis.

I’ll also give you a couple of ideas you can use to boost thermogenesis in your own body.

Let’s jump right in.

Outdoor temperatures and your calorie burn rate

Here’s one study[2] that looked at people who engaged in outdoor activities under cold conditions (around 15°F / -10°C) and under hot conditions (around 75°F / +25°C). When people were active in a cold environment, they burned away an amazing 1500! extra calories per day.

Even in less extreme temperatures (between 50°F / +10°C and 70°F / +20°C), some studies[3] have shown that higher outdoor temperatures are connected with bigger waistlines.

Now, even that big of a calorie burn boost probably won’t be enough to convince you to move to some cold and desolate place. But there’s still things you can do to trigger some cold-induced thermogenesis.

As the very first thing you can do, is try to spend more time outside. Especially on colder days, or in the mornings/evenings when temperatures are lower. You can also wear less/lighter clothing. I’m not suggesting anything extreme, I’m just saying there’s no need to layer up as soon as the temperatures drop by a few degrees.

Also, try to be as active as possible as you spend your time outside. Working, running, even walking at a quick pace will not only help you feel warmer, but can boost your calorie burn rate even further.

Indoor temperatures can keep you overweight too

Just like outdoor temperatures, indoor temperatures can boost (or slow down) the creation of heat in your body.

A study[4] of over 1,000 people has shown that higher indoor temperatures can lead to bigger waistlines as well.

So, what can you do?

Turn down your thermostat by a few degrees. If that’s not an option because of people who share your living space with you, you can again resort to wearing less/lighter clothes.

Another good tip is to keep your bedroom cooler than the rest of your apartment. You can also use a thinner blanket or sleep only in your underwear.

No need to go overboard with any of this, but getting used to sleeping in a cooler bedroom is definitely one of the easiest calorie burning wins out there.

But ok, how many calories can all this stuff realistically help you burn off?

How many calories can cold-induced thermogenesis help you burn?

This question is pretty tough to answer, mostly because a lot of factors can affect the thermogenesis in your body.

For example, your clothes and your body fat can provide extra insulation. If you expose yourself to cold while wearing layers upon layers of clothes, your body won’t really burn away a lot of calories to keep you warm. The kind of foods you eat, the type (and intensity) of exercise you do, how well your body adapts to cold, air humidity, etc. All these things can influence the number of calories you’ll ultimately burn through thermogenesis.

Plus, most of the science I saw was done under extreme conditions. This automatically makes it highly unlikely that people like you and me are going to burn off calories this way. I don’t know about you, but I’d probably rather stay overweight than keep exposing myself to extreme cold on a daily basis.

However, I did manage to find one study that was done under normal conditions. They measured how many calories people burned away at 72°F (22°C) or 81°F (27°C) while wearing the same clothes, eating the same food, and performing the same activities.

The people in the study burned away about 160 calories more per day at 72°F (22°C) than at 81°F (27°C) [5]. Burning off an extra 160 calories per day comes down to losing (or keeping off) almost 17 lbs (8 kilograms) of pure body fat per year.

Time to wrap this article up.

Conclusion

The bottom line is, plenty of scientific evidence exists that cold exposure can boost your calorie burn rate. That’s even if you don’t do any of the extreme cold stuff.

Anything from wearing lighter clothes, spending more time outside on a cold day, bringing down the temperature in your home/office can all help you burn off some extra calories with cold-induced thermogenesis.

And while any of these small changes might not be a major needle mover on its own, over time they can work together to bring you a lot closer to your weight loss goals.

But like I said, there are a lot of other factors that influence how many calories you’ll ultimately burn away.

Check out this guide to see what else you can do to boost thermogenesis in your body except yourself to some cold every now and then.

DaveLH