A new study shows that keeping your thermostat too high in winter could be keeping you from losing weight! Here’s what you need to know!
By Colette Bouchez
Could losing weight be as easy as turning down your thermostat? It could be, at least according to a new study just published in the journal Obesity Reviews.
Here, researchers from the University of Cambridge Metabolic Research Laboratories in England offer important new evidence that reduced exposure to cold temperatures may impact the body’s ability to maintain a healthy weight.
"Research into the environmental drivers behind obesity, rather than the genetic ones, has tended to focus on diet and exercise – which are undoubtedly the major contributors. However, it is possible that other environmental factors, such as winter indoor temperatures, may also have a contributing role. This research therefore raises the possibility for new public health strategies to address the obesity epidemic." says lead author Dr. Fiona Johnson, of UCL Epidemiology & Public Health.
Indeed, the study points out that as the average indoor temperatures in both the US and the UK have been steadily increasing, that rise correlates just a little too well with the rising rate of obesity.
But it’s not just pure observation driving the research. Indeed, experts say there is some solid science behind the idea that temperature affects our metabolism – and that in turn affects our ability to control our weight.
How does it work? Research suggests that that exposure to seasonal cold helps keep our metabolism running at a faster, higher rate than it normally does when the body is warm and comfy. And this, say experts, means calories burn more quickly and easily.
Brown Fat Vs White Fat: How You Lose Weight
Perhaps even more important, however, the study authors point out that exposure to colder temperatures may change our ratio of brown fat to white fat – a factor that could make a difference how much overall fat we maintain. Indeed, brown fat differs from white fat in that it has the ability to be burned in order to create body heat. And in fact the body stores brown fat to have as a ready supply of energy.
However, recent studies suggest that increased time spent in warm conditions may mean the body maintains less brown fat – and that means we lose some of our ability to burn calories. The end result: We can gain weight even if we aren’t eating more.
Study co-author Marcella Ucci, UCL Bartlett School of Graduate Studies, says: "The findings suggest that lower winter temperatures in buildings might contribute to tackling obesity as well reducing carbon emissions."
The idea that cold may induce weight loss is not entirely new. In fact, former NASA scientist and entrepreneur Ray Cronise researched the impact of temperature on weight in astronauts and found that being a bit on the chilly side does indeed speed up metabolism, making it easier to burn calories.
Moreover, he says you don’t have to freeze and shiver in order to see the effects. Reportedly his research found that regularly exposing your body to 60 degree temperatures may give your metabolism enough of a boost to impact your ability to lose weight.
Tim Ferriss, author of the The 4 Hour Body is another proponent of what he calls “thermal dieting” – the use of temperature to control metabolism. He recently told ABC News “If you make it cold, the body will do everything it can to get back to 98.6. And it has to burn calories to do that -- heat equals calories."
A Word of Caution
While exposing yourself to colder temperatures may help you lose weight, it’s important to remember that some health conditions – particularly those caused by heart disease – can be exacerbated by extreme temperature changes, particularly sudden exposure to cold. In some people, exposure to cold temperatures may even cause a heart rhythm abnormality that could be fatal.
That said, if you want to turn down the thermostat a notch or two, it probably won’t harm you – and it might just help you to lose an extra pound or two. And oh yeah, your heating bills will be lower too!