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Embrace the Cold Weather: It Helps You Burn Fat!

Posted Jan 27 2013 11:48am
Some evolutionary biologists believe one of the reasons the obesity rate has skyrocketing is because we spend so much darn time in climate controlled atmospheres.  Think about it, when was the last time you shivered? Cold weather burns lots of calories and fat from our bodies.  The majority of our daily metabolic rate is used up by our body attempting to maintain 98.6 degrees (thermoregulation).  Sweating is your body's natural air conditioner.  Conversely, shivering is our own little internal heater.  It's not practical or comfortable to freeze your butt off all winter jut to lose a few pounds.  However, there are many little wintery tweaks you can make to burn some extra fat so by summertime you are ready for the beach.

Have you ever noticed people who live in warm weather climates seem more fit than their northern counterparts.  In Miami and LA people wear less clothing all year round.  Since there is basically only one season there, people are outdoors all the time and want to look good when they're exposing more skin.  In the colder winter cities, we tend to bundle up and layer,  hence less self-conscious about our unseen bodies.  Many gain a few extra to keep them warm for the winter and when springs rolls around diligently jump back on the diets and hard training routines.  It doesn't have to be this way.   Granted, working out and going outside in the cold dark weather seems like to no fun at all.  Research suggests this may be the best time to potentate our fat burning abilities.  Don't hide your body all winter.  Wear less and get outside more. 

We have 2 types of fat cells: white fat cells which store calories and hang out around your waist, hips and butt and brown fat cells which are blessed with the superpower of burning up the white fat cells.  We don't have a ton of the fat eating brown cells (skinny people have more than the obese)  but through regular bouts of exposure to cold temperature it is seems possible to increase the effectiveness and number of these cells.  Another way to increase the brown fat cell population is to get adequate amounts of rest (7-9 hrs per night).  Be a bear and hibernate a little during the winter.  Many people have resorted to taking 5 minute cold showers or wearing ice pads to increase their fat burning potential.  Although this may work, it is way too extreme for most of us (let Tim Ferriss - "The 4 Hour" hero freeze his skinny ass off).  Fat burning fat cells are propagated by the release of melatonin (hormone that helps your sleep and is interrupted by artificial light) and being a little cold every once in a while.  Take control of your natural fat burning potential with these tips
Cold Weather Fat Burning Tips
1- Keep your bedroom cool. Studies suggest humans sleep better in a 65 degrees room that is very dark and quiet -- which will also raise your human growth hormone output contributing to fat loss and lean muscle building. Turn off all electronics at least an hour before bed (artificial light interrupts melatonin production) and get to bed as early as you can.   This will increase your brown fat cells and help your burn more fat, not to mention eat less, reduce stress and improve your overall health.

 2- Get outside during the winter!  Go sledding, snow shoeing, hiking, skiing and running.  Embrace the cold, it'll raise your metabolic rate and perhaps produce some more fat burning cells.  It takes a lot of energy for your body to maintain its temperature, especially when it has to heat up.  Most people blame the holidays for the extra pounds they put on when in actuality they walk less (pedometer studies in the Journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise showed people walk a lot less in the winter months than during the summer) and eat more treats. 

3- At the end of your shower see if you can do a cold shower for for 30 seconds to a minute.  Not only will this refresh (or maybe shock) you, it will help your body produce a little more brown fat tissue and increase your body's production of heat. 

4- Drink ice water throughout the day.  In order for your body to heat up a glass of ice water you'll burn 8-10 calories...not much but researchers from "The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism" believe you can burn up 95 caloiries a day drinking cold water.

5- Turn your home furnace down a few degrees.  This encourages your body to enter thermogenesis (body making more heat) and longer exposure to the cold will lead to the conversion of white fat into brown fat which in turn, leads to more calories burned.   As a side note, this will lower your energy bills and carbon footprint.  

6- Exercise in cold weather.  Both exercise and exposure to cold increase your thermogenesis and brown fat cell activation or conversion.  It is a win, win situation.  Put a T-shirt on and go for a run in the snow. 

Understanding how brown fat tissue works in humans is far from complete, in the meantime the evidence we have thus far is compelling.  Research suggest that people who work outdoors and/or live in cold climates have higher brown fat activity than average, so it's not crazy to think that walking to work on a brisk day could boost your metabolism.  The next time you go out into the cold wear a little bit less and turn your body into a heat producing calorie burning, fat eating machine!

1.  NY Times Brown Fat burns ordinary Fat
2. Evidence for Active BAT in Adults
3. Rising Indoor Temps linked to obesity
4. Melatonin and Brown Fat Tissue

Doug Joachim - NYC
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