Want to Burn Calories While You Do Nothing? Try Exercising First

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A small new study suggests that the calorie-burning benefits of hard exercise persist long after you’ve gotten off the treadmill.

For the study, published last week in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, researchers recruited 10 healthy men aged 22 to 33, of varying levels of fitness. The participants’ calorie expenditure was tested on days on which they exercised for 45 minutes, or rested. During the volunteers’ intense 45-minute workout on a machine called a cycle ergometer, they burned an average 519 calories, an admirable result. Even better, for 14 hours after the workout, the men continued to burn calories, shedding on average an extra 190 calories. (More on TIME.com: 5 Fitness Apps to Get You Off the Couch)

That’s the good news. The bad? It’s unclear whether the long-term effects of exercise “after-burn” extend to the average jogging Joe. The New York Times recently reported on a study of experienced athletes exerting various levels of effort:

Dr. [Joseph] LaForgia, an exercise physiologist at the University of South Australia, says people who exercise intensely — doing repeated sprints, for example — can experience a prolonged metabolic effect. Their metabolic rates can go up and remain elevated for seven hours after the session is finished.

Even so, the extra calories burned were about 10 percent of the calories burned during the intense exercise. As for people who exercised moderately, like most people do, the small increase in metabolism lasted no more than two hours and added up to only about 5 percent of the amount they burned while exercising. And since a modest exercise bout does not burn nearly as many calories as an intense one, people who exercised modestly ended up with very few extra calories burned afterward.

The Times article also reported on experiments that suggest post-workout boosts in calorie-burn may just be a myth. The reason the body stays warm after working out may not be because it’s burning more energy, but because it has a hard time getting rid of the extra heat generated during exercise. So you might feel hot, but you’re not losing weight. (More on TIME.com: Even After a Morning Gym Session, a Day At the Desk Could Hurt Your Heart)

Either way, there’s no question that exercising is great for the body and mind, regardless of how many calories you burn after leaving the gym. And vigorous workouts will always burn more calories than moderate ones — that’s reason enough to motivate you to step up your interval-training. But whatever you’re doing to get moving, it’s the right thing — there’s no need to prioritize maximum calorie loss over consistency.

More on TIME.com:

Want to Keep Pounds Off? The Trick is Consistent Exercise

Fitness Tech: 10 Ways to Get in Shape

Think Your Kid’s Physically Fit? Team Sports Don’t Offer Nearly Enough Exercise

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