The ‘Movie Theater Workout’ Is B.S., but Here’s How to Burn Calories Anyway

If you really want to get some exercise while sitting on your butt, there's a way to do it right.

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In January, researchers at the University College in London reported that watching a movie in theaters may be considered a light workout, suggesting that you actually miss out by watching entire movies in your bathroom, not in theaters.

A workout from literally sitting on your butt? Fifty-one moviegoers were fitted with biometric sensors as they watched the 2019 live-action Aladdin while another 26 wore sensors while reading a book for the same length of time. Those bookworms didn’t have a sizable change in their heart rate, but the movie kids experienced increased heart rates spurred by emotional investment in the movie. The Aladdin group spent about 45 minutes in the “healthy heart zone.” According to the British Heart Foundation, this zone is when your resting heart rate is increased by 40 to 80 percent. It’s the same range for low-level cardio.

While the point of the study was to prove the physical impact of our emotional connection to storytelling, most news outlets focused on the dumb notion of a movie theater workout. The truth is, watching Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic won’t ever help me burn enough calories to look like him.

When I spoke with the researchers, they weren’t able to explain the implications of their findings. The study concluded that watching Aladdin can build cardio fitness levels and burn fat, but the researchers couldn’t tell me how much fat moviegoers burn or if there were a way to even determine that number. “We did not calculate the calories burned from the heart rate, no,” Joseph Devlin, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at UCL and one of the study’s authors, tells me through a press coordinator.

Devlin didn’t say what films to watch beyond Aladdin. “It is reasonable to assume that you would see the same pattern for any movie that consumers found engaging,” Devlin says, noting that horror and action films are “probably more exciting” which may increase my heart rate even more. “But without testing this explicitly, it is just supposition on my part,” he says.

Well, that doesn’t tell me anything.

So, if we’re even going to entertain the stupid idea of a movie theater workout, let’s at least make sure the workout routine actually works. So here are a few ways to actually burn calories while fisting a handful of buttered popcorn and gloriously staring at a huge screen.

Spend 10 Minutes Finding Your Seat
Personal trainer Chris Kelly tells PopSugar climbing 10 steps burns a single calorie. Most standard big-box movie theaters have at least 20 rows, which means you’ll burn at least two calories walking to your seat in the back row. Now factor in the age-old tradition of accidentally walking to the wrong end of the theater. So when you climb to the back right corner, realize you’re on the opposite side, turn around and climb to the back right corner. In total, you’ve burned a whopping six calories. Congrats?

According to Business Insider, a small popcorn at AMC is 225 calories. This means you’ll have to do the Wrong Seat Climb 38 times to burn off a small popcorn. Honestly, that’s not as bad as I thought. Get there 30 minutes early and workout during the trailers. And get that popcorn without butter. As movie snacks go, plain popcorn is hardly bad for you.

Pull a Plank in the Front Row
The reverse-plank exercise position is lying on your back, placing your palms flat and lifting yourself while looking upward. It’s essentially the elevated version of what you do when you forget to buy movie tickets ahead of time and must crane your neck while in the front row. The position will work your glutes, hamstring and lower back and make you feel better about the motion sickness of being so close to the screen.

Turn Your Reclining Seat Into a Sit-Up Machine
According to Livestrong, the average 200-pound, six-foot man burns 34 calories in five minutes of crunches. So use your recliner and commit to the crunch. If you do crunches for all 109 minutes of Birds of Preyyou stand to burn approximately 741 calories. Honestly, that’s not gonna get you as jacked as Margot Robbie is playing Harley Quinn, but it’s a starting point. Just make sure you have an answer when the usher asks what you’re doing.

When in Doubt, Fart It Out
Ultimately, going to the movies isn’t going to help you lose weight or burn nearly as many calories as you’re consuming. So lean into the unhealthy movie theater experience, because you’re still “burning” calories while drinking a 32-ounce soda.

Manscaped reports that digesting food burns 10 percent of the calories you eat, on average. So order those nachos at 160 calories. Just know when you fart on your way home you’ve lost 16 calories. Now that’s a win.