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The Horror Workout: Burn calories - watch a scary movie

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The Horror Workout: Burn calories - watch a scary movie

March 7, 2013
By John Strand - Contributor

Jaws gets the swimmer

Last year BHM ran an article about why horror is first among movie genres.  Ultimately, the ‘scare’ as depicted on film was proven uniquely suited to cinema in ways that could not be replicated by the printed word.  Yet apparently we at BHM overlooked another great reason that horror movies surpass all others: They help you lose weight.  A study conducted last October by the University of Westminster (in the United Kingdom) found that on average a scary movie can burn 113 calories over 90 minutes – the same amount as a 30-minute walk.  Once more, the more frightening, the better: The average calories burned for The Shining (1980) was a whopping184 with some metabolisms burning over 200.  Meanwhile the average for the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) was only 107.  Differences aside, watching a horror film while sitting, on average, burns 1/3 more calories than reading, watching TV or engaging in other sedentary activities that fail to provoke a scare. 

Horror Movie Calorie Burn Table

The Science: Researchers recorded the heart rate, oxygen intake and carbon dioxide output of subjects to determine how many calories were burned.  Each film sent pulses racing, which in turn triggered adrenaline rushes that burned calories more quickly.  Dr. Richard Mackenzie of the University of Westminster states, “it is this release of fast acting adrenaline, produced during short bursts of intense stress, which is known to lower appetite, increase the Basal Metabolic Rate and ultimately burn a higher level of calories.”  The study was commissioned by UK’s LOVEFiLM. 

BHM Analysis

Bad news: There can be no doubt in a horror film’s ability to scare, but the number of subjects tested (10) is too small to reach such a broad-based conclusion regarding its effect on calorie burning. Also, the University of Westminster failed to employ a control group that watched the same number of tear-jerkers, or comedies, etc… 

Good news: Flawed research designs aside, the testing methodology and suggested interpretation of the results appears sound.  Also, the study did not inquire as to which subjects had seen these films before and thus would not necessarily find them as scary.  It’s easily possible that if all of viewers were Horror newbees, they would burn more calories.  Furthermore, subjects probably became more immune to the scares over time, suggesting that the films that burn the most calories may be based more on the order of viewing and frequency of exposure, opening up a window for personal preferences to play a bigger role.

Where is this going?  The more scared, the more calories burned.  The newer to the genre the more scared you will be.  So if you know any friends, spouses, or potential mates that are a little adverse to horror, but aspire to acquire or maintain a slim figure, pull this trump card out the next time the two of you are trying to decide which movie to watch.   

Bottom line: Horror’s ability to tap our primal fear towards death is very real and palpable.  As we vicariously experience that fear, it only stands to reason that our body would respond with energy-burning adrenaline.  So, if you know anyone on the fence about sitting down and enjoying a good scare with you.  Tell them there is no healthier movie choice.

Recipe for a long healthy life:  Eat right.  Exercise.  Watch a madman hunt down and brutally slaughter young victims.    

Other calorie-burners to consider

From 2012:

Two jump out as more darkly frightening than other quality contenders.  This is not to say they were the best horror films of the year, but they produced the eeriest, tensest and most terrifying scares. 

Sinister (2012): This is a no-brainer:  Bone-chilling and expertly crafted to produce a pulse-pounding calorie burn.  None other than BHM’s own Editor-in-Chief, Don Sumner, dubbed Sinister (2012) “one of the scariest horror films I’ve seen in years.”

The Devil Inside (2012): Give it a chance, you may be surprised.  It’s a genuinely terrifying flick, especially if you are new to the genre and have a little Catholic-induced fear running through your veins.


From Across the Seas:

Ju-on (2002):  Japanese filmmakers have been trying to copy the creepiness of this ghost story for years and with good reason.  Ju-on (2002) is the scariest ghost story of all time – guaranteed to leave even horror addicts burning fat.

Audition (1999) goes the other way with shear human-action inspired terror.  Cringe and jump.  While watching, if the house should creak, be sure to snap your head quickly around, so you can be sure a stranger is not standing behind you… just another part of the workout

High Tension (2005) is one of the tenser and most disturbing slasher movies of all time. Seldom does France release a good scare, but we get lucky once in a while.  


Contemporary Classics:

Halloween (1978): This one is also a no-brainer.  The kill scenes still resonate and will leave an indelible impression on any horror newbee.  Even the more experienced (no matter how many times you’ve seen it) will tense-up and burn some calories when Michael Myers strangles Annie.  (How this one got left off the list of movies they showed participants in the study, I’ll never know.  I can only guess it to be something peculiar about being British.)

Candyman (1992):  This supernatural killer combines the creepy attributes of a ghost with the bloodlust of a slasher, resulting in some terrifying moments that will melt those pounds away.     

Horror Calories Table

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