Hot yoga, also known as Bikram yoga, is one of the latest trends in the world of exercise.
Traditional yoga, the kind that’s not done in a 105-degree room, has been around for a while. Experts say it originated in India more than 5,000 years ago. It’s still popular today, and for a good number of reasons. But hot yoga might be overtaking its predecessor on the popularity scale because of something even better–its link with burning more calories by increasing metabolism.
The idea of hot yoga (also called Bikram yoga) is simple but might seem crazy to some. Hot yoga involves performing yoga in a studio that’s 105 degrees Fahrenheit with a 40% humidity rate. It’s an intense workout that scares many wannabe yogis away.
But it turns out there’s a method to the madness–for those who can take the heat, extra benefits might be in store. Heat affects your metabolism during exercise; prolonged exposure to heat can actually speed up your metabolic rate. So although hot yoga might seem like a crazy fad, it could actually be onto something.
Let’s explore this topic a little further. First of all, what exactly do the terms “metabolism” and “metabolic rate” refer to?
What is metabolic rate?
Metabolism is the biochemical process your body uses to provide energy–it takes whatever you eat and drink, combines the calories from those foods and liquids with oxygen, and creates the energy needed to fuel your body. Metabolism stems from two major factors: your body composition and how active you are.
Metabolic rate takes the concept of metabolism one step further. Your metabolic rate is determined by the number of calories your body needs to complete these functions of the body–important things such as repairing cells, breathing, and keeping your blood circulating.
As you might guess, this means your metabolism is never not working. It’s always running in the background, performing these essential functions. Therefore, the faster your metabolism runs, the more calories it needs to energize the body and keep it functioning optimally.
Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) refers to the minimum amount of calories and energy needed for your body to carry out basic cellular functions and support the maintenance of your lean body mass. There are certain factors that can affect your metabolic rate, and the primary driver of your metabolic rate is body composition. If you have more muscle, you’ll burn more calories. Your muscles need energy to help them stay healthy–this means your body requires more fuel to maintain muscle mass. So even when you’re not doing anything, your body will be burning calories.
Another way to increase calorie expenditure is through physical activity. Physical activity creates an increased demand on the muscles, causing them to require additional energy sources to keep them functioning optimally. Think of your body like a car: the harder you step on the gas pedal of your car, the more gas you need. Similarly, you can help determine how fast your metabolism “drives” with physical activity.
How can you change your metabolic rate?
Everyone has a different metabolic rate. Remember, BMR refers to the minimum amount of calories needed for your body to perform necessary functions, such as repairing cells and building new ones. Since all bodies are a different shape, size, and composition, some people simply have a lower or higher metabolic rate than their neighbor. Genetics play a role, too, and that’s something you can’t change.
But you can take some steps to help boost your metabolism.
A common method is through activity. Remember, if you have more muscle, you’ll burn more calories, even while resting. Therefore, building muscle through resistance training has a big effect on your metabolic rate. Another way to burn calories throughout the day and temporarily boost metabolism is through aerobic exercise. Research has shown that HIIT (high-intensity interval training), which incorporates both cardio and resistance exercises, is a great way to raise your heart rate and your metabolism by increasing excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).
EPOC is the amount of oxygen required to restore your body back to a normal resting metabolic function. Therefore, the higher the demand on the body, the longer it takes to return to normal, resulting in an increased metabolic rate while the body works to return to its resting state. If you’re looking for more information regarding HIIT training and how it can improve your metabolic rate and body composition, check out this article.
Physical activity, both adding muscle mass (through resistance training) and keeping up with consistent cardio workouts, is just one of the ways you can help speed up your metabolism.
Another way is through heat exposure. Let’s dive into this idea a little deeper.
Here’s how heat affects BMR
While gender, height, and age also influence BMR, these are factors we cannot control or change. But by controlling body temperature, you can ramp up the calories your body burns.
Both your internal and external temperatures influence your metabolic rate. The chemical reactions that occur in your body and make up your metabolism happen more quickly if the temperature is higher, as the body works harder to restore your normal temperature balance. For example, if you have a fever, your BMR will predictably jump up to a rate that’s much higher than normal to increase the rate of cellular metabolic reactions aimed at tackling that fever and getting your body back to a healthy state.
When it comes to external temperature, though, it’s only prolonged exposure to heat that raises your BMR significantly. A brief exposure to heat isn’t enough to do much to your metabolism. To really raise BMR, a longer exposure to heat is necessary. This is something more easily changeable than certain genetic or biological factors, such as age, height or gender. And that’s why so many have turned to hot yoga in the hopes of helping their BMR.
What are the benefits of yoga?
Before discussing hot yoga specifically, let’s briefly run through the benefits of traditional yoga. Yoga helps improve physical health.Certain poses can help improve balance, build/tone muscle, and even prevent injury. Yoga is a great way to stretch your muscles while also relieving both physical and emotional stress. It has also been found to improve body composition in elderly populations–in a study that had participants go through an 8-week Bikram yoga (hot yoga) program, older participants had a significant decrease in their BMI.
Obesity can increase the risk of developing metabolic syndrome, a condition that involves having several different health problems at once. These conditions include high cholesterol, high blood sugar, or excess body fat around the waist. Consistent yoga practices can prevent obesity, reducing the risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
A study was performed to specifically investigate the success of a 12-week yoga-based intervention in adults with metabolic syndrome. The study found that yoga produced a decrease in leptin (a hormone that helps control your appetite and needs to stay in balance). This is important for people who are stressed at work- they are twice as likely to have metabolic syndrome.
The benefits of yoga are easy to see and can impact mental and physical health. However, they don’t stop there.
Hot yoga affects metabolic rate
With hot yoga, all the same benefits of traditional yoga are still present–and a few extra advantages are added, too. Hot yoga tends to get a bad rap; either people think it’s crazy, or they think it’s dangerous, or both.
But in reality, there’s nothing wrong with hot yoga. It can be dangerous if not conducted correctly, but as long as yogis hydrate properly and watch for any signs of heat intolerance, hot yoga is safe… and remember, it’s a great way to get a workout.
So how exactly does hot yoga help? Hot yoga is often performed in an environment where the temperature is much higher than your body temperature–for example, although most hot yoga studios keep the temperature below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, some are conducted in 105-degree heat. Because prolonged exposure to heat can raise your BMR, hot yoga can raise your BMR, too.
Hot yoga isn’t so crazy after all
Your metabolism is always running in the background, doing important tasks so you can keep running, too. And although everyone is different, your metabolic rate can be sped up–through exercise such as HIIT, and through prolonged exposure to heat using activities such as hot yoga.
Yoga is extremely beneficial for many reasons. And although hot yoga may seem like an undue, sweaty punishment, the rewards could be worth it- because of the exposure to heat, hot yoga can help speed up your metabolic rate. Not only does hot yoga reap the benefits of increased flexibility and mental strength, it can also help support your body composition goals.
Hailey Hudson is a full-time freelance writer from Atlanta who writes about fitness, music, and education. When she’s not writing, she’s coaching softball or geeking out over exercise science.