Had a good cry recently? Crying is a natural reaction to experiencing intense emotion.
It’s often associated with feelings of sadness, but you may also shed tears when you’re overwhelmed with joy or gratitude, experiencing pain, or having a hearty laugh.
Whatever the reason, can crying burn calories?
The short answer is yes.
Crying does burn calories — although the impact is so slight, you’d burn more calories by doing a few jumping jacks or walking up a flight of stairs than by bawling your eyes out.
Still, any activity that raises your heart rate — yes, even crying — will indeed expend calories.
How Many Calories Does Crying Burn?
There are very few studies on the calorie burn of crying, but there is a study on laughing that can offer some insight.
According to the study, laughing increased the metabolism by 0.79 kilojoules per minute — or just under 0.2 calories per minute, explains Robert Ziltzer, MD, FACP, FAAP, an obesity medicine-certified physician and founder of the Scottsdale Weight Loss Center in Scottsdale, Arizona.
That means that a five-minute laugh session would burn one additional calorie. This is speculated to be similar to the calorie burn of crying.
Can Crying Help You Lose Weight?
Turning on the waterworks won’t help you achieve noticeable weight loss, since it only burns 12 calories an hour.
“That’s hardly enough to promote weight loss,” Ziltzer says. You’ll burn more calories by simply sitting on a Zoom call for work.
In fact, if you’re regularly stressed to the point of tears, that could actually contribute to weight gain for several reasons, Ziltzer adds.
Stress triggers the production of cortisol, which has been linked to an increase in abdominal fat storage, Ziltzer says.
When we’re stressed, we also tend to sleep poorly, and we may have reduced willpower to resist tempting treats. Stress may also cause us to self-soothe with food.
Bottom line: No one should aim to shed pounds by shedding tears.
What Causes Us to Cry?
While some animals demonstrate vocal noises when in distress, the production of tears when crying is a uniquely human trait.
Research on crying is surprisingly limited, but it’s believed that “tearful crying facilitates social connections.”
Humans typically cry at important moments in life, including both positive events (weddings, childbirth) and negative events (deaths, loss).
But we also may cry at relatively ordinary situations like arguments, minor frustrations, movies, and commercials.
Crying isn’t necessarily bad and can even offer us some benefits. Research suggests extended crying may lead to a release of oxytocin, a stress-relieving hormone.
And in a 2008 study, psychologists analyzed 3,000 crying experiences and found that the majority of individuals reported that their mood was improved after a good sobfest.
Those who received support from others while crying were more likely to see mood improvements afterwards.
Can You Cry Too Much?
It depends. While crying itself is not problematic, it’s important to consider the root cause.
If you’re binge-watching Grey’s Anatomy, by all means, cry away. If stress is to blame, practicing some stress management techniques may help to calm your mind (and your tear ducts).
If you find yourself regularly shedding tears due to sadness, or you’ve been crying more than usual recently, that could potentially be a sign of depression or anxiety, and you may want to reach out to your doctor or a mental health professional.