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Despite popular belief, your body doesn’t go into starvation mode in the wintertime. Outside of the sweets-filled smorgasbord of the holidays, the other major reason that people tend to gain weight in the winter months is that they often spend a lot less time jogging in the park and a lot more time eating cookies on the couch.
But we’ve got some good news. If you do manage to motivate yourself into doing a little outdoor exercise, you’ll get way more of a payback for your troubles.
According to a recent study of 53 men and women who took part in a vigorous National Outdoor Leadership School program in Wyoming, exercising in the cold burns more calories than exercising in warmer temperatures, making it easier to lose weight.
In fact, the study found program participants burned 34 percent more calories when hiking in 14-23 degree weather than in temperatures in the more comfortable mid-50s. On average, the men in the outdoor school burned 4,787 calories per day hiking in winter, versus 3,822 when doing so in the spring; for women, as usual, the results were less disparate, with 3,880 calories burned in winter versus 3,081 in spring.
As a result, outdoor school participants lost more weight in the winter program, burning 2,000 more calories than they consumed per day in the winter, versus only 1,000 in the spring.
The reasoning behind the additional calorie burn is the same reason that a brisk walk home after work in cold weather can leaving you feeling tired and hungry in a way that the same commute wouldn’t on a nice, warm day.
“Cold is much more metabolically expensive,” said Cara Ocobock, of the University at Albany, who did the Wyoming study. “You have to burn more calories through what’s called thermogenesis just to keep the body warm.”
Of course, the downside is that you need to be a little cold while exercising in order for the thermogenesis to work. Bundling yourself up in a nice puffer jacket that makes you as cozy as you’d be by a roaring fireplace won’t work.
Another downside is that exercising in the cold can often make you hungrier than in the heat, and an obvious requirement for weight loss is that burn more than you consume. So eating a whole pizza followed by three donuts after a long morning hike probably won’t help you reach your fitness goals.
And if shivering outside isn’t your idea of a good time, there’s a nice, easy way to burn a few extra calories: sleeping in a cold room, which raises your metabolic rate. The good news is that a recent study showed that sleeping with a window open leads to a better night of sleep, and other studies have indicated that getting a good night of shuteye is actually essential to weight-loss, so it’s a win-win-win.
And if you do want a quick indoor workout, you can try Bella Hadid’s 15-minute workout instead.
This story was originally published in Best Life.