Does Coughing Burn Calories?

When we think about burning calories, our minds often jump to images of sweaty gym sessions, long runs in the park, or even intense yoga classes. It’s well understood that physical activity is directly linked to calorie expenditure; the more intense the activity, the more calories we burn.

This fundamental principle of weight management and overall fitness is ingrained in our collective consciousness. However, amidst discussions of planned exercise routines and fitness regimens, a curious question arises: Can involuntary actions, such as coughing, also contribute to calorie burn?

Coughing is a natural reflex that helps protect the respiratory system. It’s an action most people don’t think twice about unless it becomes frequent or severe. Given that coughing involves a sudden expulsion of air from the lungs, using abdominal and intercostal muscles, it’s reasonable to wonder whether this involuntary activity expends energy in a way that’s measurable or, perhaps more interestingly, beneficial from a calorie-burning perspective.

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In this article, we aim to uncover whether coughing, an act so common and often involuntary, can indeed contribute to the body’s overall calorie burn.

Does Coughing Burn Calories?

Yes, coughing does burn calories because it involves muscle movement and hence some energy expenditure. However, the caloric burn from coughing is so minute that it doesn’t significantly contribute to weight loss or overall calorie expenditure.

Coughing typically burns a minimal amount of calories. 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.

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How Many Calories Does Coughing Burn?

Coughing, while a common reflex action, does require energy and thus burns calories. However, the amount of calories burned by coughing is relatively small. On average, a single cough can burn anywhere between 2 to 5 calories.

This number may vary depending on various factors such as the forcefulness of the cough, the duration of the coughing fit, and the individual’s body weight and metabolism.

How Many Calories Does Coughing Burn?

When compared 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. Therefore, while coughing does burn some calories, it should not be relied upon as a significant weight loss strategy.

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Factors Influencing Calorie Burn from Coughing

Several factors influence the calorie-burning potential of coughing:

  1. Frequency and Intensity: The more frequent and intense the coughing episodes, the more calories are burned.
  2. Individual Differences: Factors such as age, weight, and overall health can affect how much energy is expended during a coughing fit.
  3. Muscle Engagement: Coughing requires the coordinated effort of several muscles in our body, including the diaphragm, intercostal muscles, and abdominal muscles. The energy used during these muscular contractions contributes to calorie burn, although the total impact is less than during deliberate activities that use the same muscle groups.
  4. 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.

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In conclusion, while coughing does technically burn calories due to the physical activity involved, it is not a significant contributor to overall calorie expenditure or weight loss.

Health Implications of Frequent Coughing

Frequent coughing, particularly when it’s chronic (lasting eight weeks or longer in adults, or four weeks in children), can have several health implications:

  1. Physical Discomfort: Severe cases of chronic cough can cause vomiting, lightheadedness, and even rib fractures. It can also lead to headaches and urinary incontinence.
  2. Sleep Disruption: A chronic cough can interrupt your sleep, leaving you feeling exhausted.
  3. Underlying Health Conditions: Chronic coughing can be a symptom of various health conditions such as asthma, acid reflux, sinus issues causing postnasal drip, and long-term smoking. It can also be a sign of more serious conditions like lung cancer, especially in current and past smokers.
  4. Social and Psychological Impact: Frequent coughing can be embarrassing and disruptive to daily activities, jobs, and exercise.

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It’s important to see a doctor if you have a cough that lingers for weeks, especially one that brings up sputum or blood, disturbs your sleep, or affects school or work.

Alternative Ways to Burn Calories

Alternative Ways to Burn Calories

For people looking to increase their calorie burn in a more impactful and healthy manner, focusing on intentional physical activities and lifestyle choices is key. Below are several effective and recommended ways to burn calories, improve overall health, and maintain a balanced lifestyle.

1. Engage in Regular Exercise

  • Aerobic Exercises: Activities like running, cycling, swimming, and brisk walking are excellent for burning a significant amount of calories. These exercises increase your heart rate, improve cardiovascular health, and boost metabolism.
  • Strength Training: Incorporating resistance or strength training into your routine can help build muscle mass. Muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue, even at rest, making strength training crucial for increasing your resting metabolic rate.
  • High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): HIIT involves short bursts of intense exercise followed by brief recovery periods. This type of workout is highly effective for burning calories and fat in a shorter amount of time compared to moderate-intensity exercises.

2. Make Lifestyle Adjustments

  • Stand More, Sit Less: Simply choosing to stand rather than sit can increase your calorie burn. Standing desks, for example, can help you burn more calories during the workday.
  • Active Transportation: Opt for walking or biking instead of driving for short distances. This not only helps burn calories but also benefits the environment.
  • Incorporate Movement into Daily Activities: Small changes, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or doing household chores vigorously, can contribute to your daily calorie expenditure.

3. Focus on Nutrition

  • Eat Whole Foods: A diet rich in whole foods like vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains can increase your metabolism and help your body burn more calories.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drinking water can temporarily boost metabolism. Some studies suggest that drinking cold water may further increase calorie burn, as the body expends energy to heat the water to body temperature.
  • Mindful Eating: Paying attention to your food and eating slowly can lead to better digestion and a slight increase in calorie burn compared to fast, mindless eating.

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While coughing and other involuntary actions do burn a trivial amount of calories, they are not effective strategies for weight management or improving fitness. A holistic approach that combines regular physical activity, lifestyle adjustments, and a balanced diet is far more effective and beneficial for health and well-being.


Can coughing help me lose weight?

No, coughing cannot help you lose weight in any significant manner. While coughing does burn a small number of calories due to the muscle activity involved, the amount is too minimal to have any real impact on weight loss.

If I have a cold and cough frequently, will I see a difference in my calorie expenditure?

While frequent coughing over several days might slightly increase your daily calorie expenditure due to repeated muscle activity, the overall impact on calorie burn or weight loss is still considered insignificant.

Are there any involuntary actions that burn more calories than coughing?

Yes, there are other involuntary actions that burn more calories than coughing, such as shivering. Shivering is an involuntary response to cold and involves rapid muscle contractions that can significantly increase calorie burn compared to coughing.

Does laughing burn more calories than coughing?

Yes, laughing can burn more calories than coughing because it typically involves a more extensive contraction of the abdominal muscles and lasts longer than a single cough. However, like coughing, the calorie burn from laughing is still relatively low and not sufficient for weight loss.

Is it healthy to rely on involuntary actions like coughing to burn calories?

No, it’s not healthy or effective to rely on involuntary actions like coughing to burn calories. For good health and weight management, it’s important to focus on intentional physical activities and maintain a balanced diet.


While the notion that coughing can burn calories is technically true, the impact is minimal and not significant enough to influence weight loss or fitness levels. For those seeking to manage their weight and improve their health, focusing on intentional exercise, lifestyle changes, and a nutritious diet remains the most effective approach.

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