Turn Down the Thermostat to Burn Calories

There's no denying that people love feeling comfortable. During the summers people pump up the AC and during the winters they turn on the heat, all to keep the indoor temperatures at a relatively stable level.

New research from the University College of London examines whether this temperature homogenesis could be slowing metabolisms and contributing to the obesity epidemic.

The Research and Results

Researchers as the UCL reviewed previous research to bring together evidence on indoor temperatures over the last few decades. Over time, developed countries like the US and UK have gradually increased indoor temperatures during the winter months, during the same period of time that increases in obesity have been seen. These steady temperatures and the expectation of ongoing thermal comfort within indoor environments essentially decreases the amount of time that people are exposed to seasonally cold temperatures.

Researchers writing this study also drew on the connection between brown fat and heat production in the human body. Unlike white fat, brown fat has the ability to burn energy to create body heat. Previous research indicates that the production of brown fat is triggered by exposure to cold, and the less cold exposure people experience, the less brown fat the body produces. This could essentially reduce a person's ability to burn calories and create heat.

The Takeaway

The researchers are the first ones to note that a reduction in cold exposure is just one small facet in the multi-faceted obesity problem. So, this doesn't provide you with a new alternative to diet and exercise, but it does remind you that it's okay to be a little uncomfortable, temperature-wise, from time to time.

Make an effort to spend more time outdoors, lower the thermostat during the winter months for a couple hours each day and avoid taking advantage of space heaters or blankets if your office is especially cold. Unless you're completely without heat, a little chill won't give you frostbite or hypothermia. So suck it up and allow your body to do what it's supposed to do—create it's own heat. In the process, you just might burn a few extra calories. Every little bit counts, right?

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Laura Williams writes about exercise and fitness for Exercise.com through her regular column "Exercise Science". She is currently completing her master's in Exercise Science.

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