Freezing weather is no excuse to give up on fitness. As it turns out, you might stand a better chance of losing weight when it’s cold.
A new study published in the journal Scientific Reports found that people actively trying to shed pounds had the best results when the temperature dropped. The more inhospitable the weather, the more conscientious people became about keeping track of their meals and calories.
“Climate-related factors can directly change a person’s behavior, and these factors can have a certain impact on intentional efforts to lose weight,” said Sang Youl Rhee, who led the research team at Kyung Hee University Medical Center in Seoul, South Korea. “In addition, various climatic factors can lead to a significant change in the level of energy expenditure in the body.”
Researchers tracked the weight loss of 3,274 people younger than 42 throughout Europe, the Americas and Asia with Noom Coach, a fitness app that can pinpoint the location of users. They then used a meteorology service, called Weather Underground API, to monitor conditions, and they discovered that lower temperatures and lower dew points as well as higher wind speed and precipitation were all linked to the app users’ weight loss.
On average, people logged into Noom 110 days during the yearlong study, or roughly every three days. Men tended to use the app more frequently than women and were more likely to lose weight. People who logged their meals regularly, especially dinner, lost the most weight.
“It’s important to focus on changing the underlying behaviors that lead to obesity,” said Rhee, an endocrinologist. “Those who continue logging food and have an awareness around what they are eating will be most successful in losing weight.”
Other studies have explored the relationship between lower temperatures and burning fat. One study in the journal of Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism said spending time in the cold can boost calorie burn by as much as 30 percent. Yet those studies primarily examined the molecular breakdown of fat, not the behavioral connection between temperature and weight loss.
Chronicling meals, physical activity and weight have been proven in previous studies to be effective ways to lose weight. A Kaiser Permanente study of 1,700 people found that those who kept a daily account of what they ate lost twice as much weight as those who kept no record.
The study didn’t take exercise into account, but Petakov said that’s not necessarily a shortcoming.
“The popular notion is that physical activity is the key to achieving weight loss, but the truth is it’s more about nutrition,” Petakov said. “When it’s colder, you have more time to focus on the nutrition aspects, cooking more, for example, and just have more time to dedicate to it without as many distractions as far as going outside.”