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During the recent heat wave here in Paris, I tried my hardest to find the silver lining of 100° temperatures in a country where most people consider air conditioning unnecessary… or even unpleasant!
Given my lack of energy, carb cravings and endless sweating, I wondered if the upside of living in a sauna might be a metabolism boost, or at least some extra calories burned during my workouts. I did some research, though, and unfortunately my theory didn’t hold up. Here’s what I learned.
Exposure to higher temperatures has minimal effect on metabolism. Spending time in the sauna (or your hot, humid backyard) will make you sweat, so you may feel lighter afterwards. Don’t be fooled, though! Sweating means that our bodies are well-equipped to handle external heat, so there’s no reason for our BMR, or basal metabolic rate, to increase. According to Livestrong, BMR actually reacts more quickly to cold temperatures than heat. Unless you have a fever or are exposed to high external temperatures for a long time, you won’t burn many extra calories just from enjoying a hot summer day.
>> Read more: 6 Ways to Keep Sweat Under Control
More sweat doesn’t equal more calorie burn. In fact, extremely hot workouts can be dangerous. Jillian Michaels warns that the amount you sweat during exercise doesn’t correspond to the number of calories burned: “When it comes to exercise, you want to heat your body from the inside out by exercising at a high intensity and working out at your maximum heart rate. Adding heat from the environment offers no benefits to your body.” In addition, heat dehydrates the body quickly, so it’s important to drink even more water than usual to avoid injury.
>> Read more: Sexy While You Sweat: 8 Summer Beauty Products You Need
Exercising in the heat burns a higher percentage of carbohydrates versus fat. This article from Runner’s World explains that our bodies burn a mixture of both fat and carbs when we work out. In the heat, the proportion shifts to favor carbohydrates. This also shows why many of us crave more carbs when it’s hot outside (as opposed to the fats we often crave during winter).
“Hot” workouts may burn a few more calories, but not enough to see an impact. We usually feel like we’re exercising harder in the heat, but hot workouts actually tend to lack intensity. As Dr. John Porcari mentions in an article for Women’s Health, “Your body is using so much energy to cool itself off, it becomes much harder to exercise at the same intensity level as you’d be able to normally.” So while our bodies might work harder to stay cool, the lower intensity of our workouts balances out any extra calorie burn.
So unfortunately it seems that a summer heat wave doesn’t justify daily ice cream runs. In fact, as far as external temperature goes, cold has a more pronounced effect on metabolism than heat. I’ve learned that the most important lifestyle change for hot weather is simply increasing water intake to stay hydrated and prevent fatigue, and not to give up searching for that silver lining!