In today’s totally mind-blowing news: A study found that yogis burn the same amount of calories during a Bikram class—a 90-minute yoga class where a series of 26 poses is done in a 105-degree room—as they would on a brisk walk. If you just face-palmed thinking about all the times you’ve proudly walked out of class, dripping with sweat, and thought, I totally deserve pizza tonight! I just burned AT LEAST 1,000 calories!, trust me, you’re not alone.
The study, led by Colorado State University exercise scientist Brian L. Tracy and reported this week on Time.com, consisted of two experiments: First, the researchers had a group of healthy but sedentary adults with no yoga experience complete 24 Bikram sessions over the course of eight weeks, a vigorous three-classes-a-week schedule. At the end of the experiment, they found that the participants had only achieved a very slight drop in body weight—a head scratcher, for sure, considering these folks hadn’t been participating in any form of exercise prior to the experiment.
As Tracy told Time, “To be honest, we were pretty surprised by the small size of the weight change, because when you’re in a Bikram studio you feel like you’re working really hard.” And if you’ve ever taken a Bikram class, you can attest to that very true statement. Like, seriously guys, during my first class I legitimately thought I might keel over and die after just 15 minutes—it is that hard.
For the second experiment, researchers measured the heart rates, body temperatures and energy expenditures of a group of experienced yogis during a 90-minute Bikram session. And here’s where they found what could explain the curious lack of weight loss in the first group—listen to this:
While heart rate and core temp climbed significantly (but not dangerously) during the 90-minute session, the participants’ metabolic rates—or the amount of calories their bodies burned—were roughly equivalent to those of people walking briskly.
They found that women averaged a burn of 330 calories and men around 460.
As Tracy explained, “I think the heat and the difficulty of the postures combine to alter your perception of the intensity of the exercise.” So, even though it feels like you’re burning twelve pizzas worth of calories during an intense 90-minute Bikram class, that is simply not the case—Bikram is playing mind games with you.
The lesson: If you’re looking to fit into your skinny jeans by September, a Bikram routine might not be the way to go. But it’s not all bad news: While the folks in the first experiment didn’t experience much weight loss, they did see an increase in strength and muscle control, along with improved balance. So if you’re goal is to tone up, rather than to lose weight, a hot yoga class will do just the trick. Plus, you'll probably become a bit more zen while you're at it.
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