Watching Horror Movies Burns Calories; This Isn’t A Trick

It’s that time of year again. The scary masks are out, the horror movies are on and there will soon be an army of children running around with Halloween buckets and plastic pitchforks.

Watching horror movies is one of the best things about Halloween. But did you know that watching them could help you burn as many calories as there is in a typical chocolate bar?

Good news for people who’d rather curl up behind the sofa than go to the gym. Let’s find out what the suspected reasons for the surprising form of calorie expenditure are.

A 2012 study conducted by the University of Westminster measured the oxygen intake, carbon dioxide output and heart rate of participants as they watched 10 popular horror films.

They found that watching a 90-minute horror movie burn between 100 and 185 calories, roughly the same amount as a short walk.

They ranked the films viewed in order from the most energy expended to the least:

  1. The Shining: 184 calories
  2. Jaws: 161 calories
  3. The Exorcist: 158 calories
  4. Alien: 152 calories
  5. Saw: 133 calories
  6. A Nightmare on Elm Street: 118 calories
  7. Paranormal Activity: 111 calories
  8. The Blair Witch Project: 105 calories
  9. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: 107 calories
  10. [Rec]: 101 calories

But why does watching horror movies burn more calories? Richard McKenzie, a lead researcher on the study when it was conducted, said:

“As the pulse quickens and blood pumps around the body faster, the body experiences a surge in adrenaline. It is this release of fast-acting adrenaline, produced during short bursts of intense stress (or in this case, brought on by fear), which is known to lower the appetite, increase the basal metabolic rate and ultimately burn a higher level of calories.”1 

The researchers found that the films featuring the most “jump scare” moments are the best calorie-burners as they cause the greatest increase in heart rate.

The study’s findings may need to be taken with a pinch of salted popcorn, though, as it uses a small sample size (10 people) and was commissioned by LoveFilm, who may or may not have had a vested interest in boosting movie sales around spooky season.

While it may never have been meant to be taken seriously, that doesn’t mean there isn’t an element of truth in its findings.

A similar study also found that stress burns calories.1 The study took 12 healthy young men and showed them two types of films: a stress-inducing horror film and, as a control, romantic family films. It was conducted in a cross-over design, meaning the participants experienced both film genres during the trial.

The researchers found that the more stress-inducing horror films caused a greater rise in energy expenditure when compared to the romantic films.

If you’re not a horror fan, don’t worry. Another study found that laughter, the notorious other physiological response to fear, can also help increase energy expenditure, burning between 2-10 calories for every 10-15 minutes of genuine laughter.2

One final thing to note is the researchers who conducted the University of Westminster study specified that all films should be watched without distraction. That means no phones — which must sound truly terrifying to some of you.

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  1. Weststrate, J. A., Van der Kooy, K., Deurenberg, P., & Hautvast, J. G. (1990). The effect of psychological stress on diet-induced thermogenesis and resting metabolic rate. European journal of clinical nutrition, 44(4), 269–275.
  2. Buchowski, M. S., Majchrzak, K. M., Blomquist, K., Chen, K. Y., Byrne, D. W., & Bachorowski, J. A. (2007). Energy expenditure of genuine laughter. International journal of obesity (2005), 31(1), 131–137.

Jamie Wright

Jamie Wright

Writer and expert

Jamie Wright holds an MSc Degree in Human Nutrition and a BSc (Hons) in Sports and Exercise Science, and now works with multiple organisations as well as running his own private nutritionist coaching services company, Balance, along with his team of qualified experts, to help individuals with their nutritional goals. He is accredited with the Association for Nutrition and has helped hundreds of clients; from those with eating disorders to internationally competing athletes. Jamie supports his clients with evidence-based, holistic nutrition programming to reach their health and fitness goals. In addition to running his practice, Jamie regularly contributes to the field of nutrition presenting and writing on its many facets. He has had his research presented at the UK Obesity Congress as well as overseas conferences and has authored several e-books whilst contributing to others (including charitable sporting organisations). His research has centred around weight management as well as sports / exercise performance and supplementation. A massive sport nut, avid gym goer and lover of all things dog related, Jamie’s goal in sharing the experience and knowledge he has gained academically and professionally is to provide a source of clarity in the vast amount of “misinformation and noise” that exists within the health and fitness industry. You can check his work out further at Balance, @balance_ie or @jamiesdietguide on social media.