Does Coughing Burn Calories? (You Won’t Believe It)

a man holding his hand up in front of his face as he coughs

Does Coughing Burn Calories? (You Won’t Believe It)

  1. What is the physiological process involved in coughing?
  2. How does the calorie burning from coughing compare with regular physical exercises?
  3. What health implications are associated with frequent coughing?
  4. What role does a balanced diet play in burning calories and weight management?
  5. Is coughing a significant contributor to calorie burning and weight management?
  1. The energy and muscular effort involved in coughing led to speculation about its potential as a calorie-burning activity.
  2. Frequent coughing can lead to discomfort, disrupt daily activities, and indicate serious medical conditions.
  3. Effective calorie-burning strategies include regular physical activities like aerobic exercises, strength training, and high-intensity interval training.
  4. Intentionally inducing coughing for calorie burning can cause harm and health complications.
  5. Coughing is a reflex action that clears the throat and airways of irritants, and it involves a complex process of various muscles.

It’s a question that might have crossed your mind during flu season or after a bout of allergies: does coughing burn calories? 

After all, it is a physical activity that requires energy. But before we delve into the intriguing intersection of coughing and calorie burning, let’s first understand what coughing is and why it happens.

Coughing is a common reflex action that our bodies employ to clear the throat and airways of mucus, irritants, foreign particles, and microbes. 

It’s a critical function of our respiratory system, helping to maintain the health of our lungs and prevent infection. However, given the physical exertion involved in a robust cough, one might wonder whether this commonplace act could serve another purpose – could it, perhaps, also be a potential calorie burner? 

As we explore this unconventional perspective, prepare to be intrigued by the interplay between everyday bodily functions and energy expenditure. 

The Science Behind Coughing: Unraveling an Everyday Phenomenon

Coughing might seem like a simple, automatic response, but it’s a surprisingly complex process that involves a symphony of muscles and parts of our respiratory system. So, let’s delve into the science behind this common yet fascinating phenomenon.

A man covering his mouth as he coughs

A. The Physiology of Coughing: More than Meets the Eye

Coughing is essentially a protective mechanism of the body to expel unwanted particles and substances from the lungs and throat. When the sensory nerves in our airways detect an irritant, they send signals to the brain. In response, the brain instructs the body to forcefully expel air from the lungs, clearing the irritant and triggering what we recognize as a cough.

B. The Muscles that Power a Cough: An Intricate Symphony

A cough might seem straightforward, but it’s a process that requires the coordinated effort of several muscles in our body. The diaphragm, the large muscle beneath the lungs, contracts and rapidly pushes air out of the lungs. This action is aided by intercostal muscles between the ribs, which help force the air out even more quickly.

In tandem, muscles in the abdomen tighten to increase the pressure on the lungs, while the larynx (voice box) briefly opens to allow the air to rush out, carrying the irritant with it.

Given the effort and muscular engagement involved in coughing, the question naturally arises: could this energy-intensive process help us burn calories?

woman in white crew neck t-shirt sitting on gray sofa

Does Coughing Contribute to Calorie Burning?

When we think about burning calories, activities such as running, swimming, or lifting weights often come to mind. But could something as ordinary as coughing contribute to calorie burning as well? It’s time to turn to science to unravel the truth.

A. The Scientific Verdict: Unraveling the Cough-Calorie Connection

Research on this specific subject is somewhat sparse. However, it’s worth noting that any physical activity, including coughing, does require energy and therefore burns some calories. But how much?

The number of calories burned during any activity depends on various factors, including the person’s weight, the intensity and duration of the activity. Since coughing is typically sporadic and not sustained like other physical activities, it is unlikely to result in a significant caloric expenditure.

Furthermore, coughing is a symptom of an underlying condition, like a respiratory infection. When your body is fighting off an illness, your metabolic rate may increase slightly due to the energy required by your immune system. Yet, it’s important to note that this metabolic increase is primarily driven by the body’s healing processes, not by the act of coughing itself.

Man in Gray Sweater Sitting Beside Woman as he coughs

B. Comparing Coughing to Other Physical Activities

When we compare coughing to regular physical exercises, the calorie-burning impact of coughing is negligible. For example, a person weighing 68 kilograms (around 150 pounds) can burn approximately 100 calories by walking at a moderate pace for 30 minutes. In contrast, coughing, even if it’s frequent and forceful, would likely burn only a fraction of this amount in the same time period.

Therefore, while coughing does technically burn some calories due to the muscular effort and energy required, it should not be considered a weight loss strategy. It’s also important to remember that persistent coughing is a sign of an underlying health issue, which should be addressed by a medical professional.

Woman Lying on Bed While Using Tissue

The Health Implications of Frequent Coughing: More Than Meets the Eye

While our discussion has taken a slightly unusual angle, examining coughing in the context of calorie burning, it’s crucial to remember that coughing is a physiological response to an underlying condition, not an activity to be induced for calorie-burning purposes. This leads us to discuss the potential health risks associated with frequent coughing.

A. Understanding the Health Issues Associated with Frequent Coughing

Frequent and persistent coughing is typically a sign that something isn’t right in your respiratory system. It can be a symptom of a variety of conditions, such as a respiratory infection like pneumonia, a chronic lung disease like asthma or COPD, or even conditions like acid reflux or heart failure.

Persistent coughing can cause discomfort and disrupt daily activities. It can lead to complications like chest pain, fatigue, light-headedness, and even fractured ribs in severe cases. It can also indicate a serious underlying medical condition that requires treatment.

a woman coughs showing spread of virus

B. Why Coughing Should Not Be Used as a Calorie-Burning Method

From our exploration, it’s clear that while coughing may technically burn a small number of calories due to the physical effort involved, its impact on calorie burning is minimal and definitely not significant enough to contribute to weight loss. Furthermore, intentionally inducing coughing in an attempt to burn calories could cause harm and lead to unintended health complications.

Trying to lose weight or stay fit by inducing a cough or any other form of discomfort is not healthy or effective. Instead, adopting a balanced diet and regular physical exercise, combined with maintaining a generally healthy lifestyle, are the recommended strategies for weight management and overall health.

Effective and Healthy Ways to Burn Calories: Moving Beyond the Cough

Now that we’ve debunked the notion of coughing as a significant calorie burner, it’s time to turn our attention to effective and healthy ways to expend calories. After all, the key to maintaining a healthy body weight is a balance of calorie intake and output. Let’s dive into some alternative strategies that offer real results, without compromising your health.

man in tank top running near shore

A. Alternative Physical Activities That Help Burn Calories

There’s no shortcut to burning calories; it’s all about movement and intensity. Physical activities, particularly those that get your heart rate up, are the most efficient calorie burners. Here are a few activities that can contribute to a significant calorie burn:

Aerobic Exercise: Activities such as walking, running, cycling, and swimming are excellent for burning a large number of calories and improving cardiovascular health.

Strength Training: While aerobic exercises are great for burning calories during the workout, strength training can help you burn calories long after the exercise is over by boosting your resting metabolic rate.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): This involves short bursts of intense exercise alternated with low-intensity recovery periods. It’s highly time-efficient and is proven to burn a lot of calories.

Remember, it’s essential to choose activities that you enjoy, as you’re more likely to stick with them in the long run.

B. The Importance of a Balanced Diet and Regular Exercise

While physical activity is a crucial component of weight management and overall health, it’s only one piece of the puzzle. Nutrition plays an equally important role. A balanced diet ensures you’re providing your body with the necessary nutrients it needs to function optimally and supports your physical activities.

Incorporating a variety of foods from all the food groups in appropriate proportions can help maintain a balanced calorie intake. It’s also essential to pay attention to portion sizes to avoid overeating.

Regular exercise, in conjunction with a balanced diet, forms the cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle. While exercise helps to burn calories and build muscle, a balanced diet supports these processes by providing the necessary fuel and nutrients.

The intersection of diet and exercise is where effective calorie burning and healthy weight management occur. So, while coughing may technically burn some calories, it’s regular exercise and a balanced diet that offer the most effective and healthy approach to calorie burning and weight management.

men and women running on sea shore

Conclusion: Coughing and Calorie Burning: The Final Verdict

As we round off our exploration of whether coughing burns calories, it’s time to piece together the insights gleaned from our journey and to present the final verdict on this fascinating question.

In the course of our discussion, we’ve delved into the science behind coughing, looking at the muscles involved and the physiological process it entails. We’ve dissected the notion of coughing as a calorie-burning activity and contrasted it with traditional forms of physical exertion like exercise.

Furthermore, we’ve highlighted the health implications of frequent coughing, and why it shouldn’t be sought as a method to burn calories. Instead, we’ve stressed the importance of healthy, tried-and-true methods of calorie expenditure, such as engaging in regular physical activities and maintaining a balanced diet.

So, does coughing burn calories? Technically, yes, because like any physical activity, it involves muscle movement and hence some energy expenditure. However, the caloric burn from coughing is so minute, it doesn’t significantly contribute to weight loss or overall calorie expenditure.

Moreover, the potential adverse health effects associated with frequent or chronic coughing far outweigh the minuscule number of calories burned. Therefore, it’s essential not to view coughing as a weight loss tool or a means to burn calories.

Now, we pass the baton to you, our readers. Were you surprised by the revelations about coughing and calorie burning? Has it changed how you view your everyday cough? We’d love to hear your thoughts and perspectives.


What are the causes of frequent coughing?

Frequent coughing can be due to various causes, including respiratory infections such as pneumonia or bronchitis, chronic lung diseases like asthma or COPD, and allergies. Environmental irritants like dust, smoke, or chemicals can also trigger coughing. Less commonly, conditions like heart failure or acid reflux can cause persistent coughing.

How many calories do we burn naturally in a day?

The number of calories a person burns naturally in a day—also known as their resting metabolic rate—varies greatly depending on factors like age, sex, weight, and muscle mass. On average, men burn between 1,600 to 3,000 calories per day, while women burn between 1,400 to 2,400 calories per day, at rest.

What are some simple activities that can burn calories?

There are numerous everyday activities that can help burn calories, including:

Walking or cycling instead of driving
Taking the stairs instead of the elevator
Doing household chores like cleaning, mowing the lawn, or gardening
Standing or walking while on phone calls
Incorporating more movement into your workday, such as walking meetings or standing desks

Can any involuntary bodily functions help burn calories?

Yes, many involuntary bodily functions burn calories because they involve muscle movement and energy expenditure. These functions include breathing, digestion, maintaining body temperature, and heartbeats. However, like coughing, the caloric burn from these involuntary functions is minimal and does not contribute significantly to weight loss. They are primarily necessary for our survival and maintaining our body’s basic functions.

What role does diet play in burning calories and weight management?

Diet plays a crucial role in burning calories and weight management. Consuming a balanced diet ensures that you’re providing your body with the necessary nutrients it needs to function optimally and support physical activity. Moreover, controlling portion sizes and maintaining a balanced calorie intake can contribute significantly to weight management.

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