Freezing temps are 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. “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 under 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 discovered that colder 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 year-long 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.
“During the weight-loss journey, 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 cooler temperatures and burning fat, including one in the journal of Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism that said spending time in the cold can boost calorie burn by up to 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.
Noom, which launched in 2012, lets users choose from a variety of courses, ranging from 16 to 22 weeks, designed to prevent or manage chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes. Courses are created by physicians and come with a coach to guide users through the process. One week might be dedicated to understanding triggers to unhealthy foods you’re eating while another focuses on getting you to try a variety of veggies.
“It’s a cognitive behavior-based program, meaning you’re trying to understand what makes you have certain habits and behaviors and change your thinking around those behaviors and habits,” said Artem Petakov, president and co-founder of Noom. “There are different exercises to make you more mindful and more likely to problem-solve around those areas.”
Petakov said Noom has worked with other researchers, including a team at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, on wellness studies. In this case, the team at Kyung Hee approached the company, which has 45 million users worldwide, to get a diverse collection of anonymous data.
The study did not 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.”