By: Tracey Rose
Spending time outdoors in sub-zero temperatures isn’t the ideal weight loss plan, but lowering the thermometer a few degrees and exposing the body to colder temperatures in moderation can aid in the fight against obesity. Extreme conditions aren’t needed to see results. New research suggests that while many people keep their indoor temperatures closer to 70 degrees in an effort to stay comfortable, lowering it to the mid 60s can make a difference.
The journal Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism published evidence from researchers in the Netherlands that shows how body temperature regulation aids weight loss. Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt and his team at the Maastricht University Medical Center studied 51 men over 10 days. They exposed the men to a 62 degree room and found that exposure to cooler temperature increased the production of brown fat to help them lose weight. Colder temperatures tend to cause the shivers, but the alternative is to use the body’s own brown fat as a source of fuel to keep it warm. When fueling the fire with brown fat, the shivers stop and the body learns to adapt.
A Japanese study went a step further and studied body fat levels over a period of six weeks. The thermostat was set at 62.6 for two hours each day. Then they lowered it to 59 degrees. They found that participants didn’t shiver as much as the study went on and their brown fat levels increased. They were also able to adjust easier to lower temperatures once they had been exposed for a while.
The body is capable of warming itself and adjusting to colder temperatures. As a survival technique, the body fights to maintain a higher temperature and adjust to the cold.
Increasing brown fat is a healthy way to burn off the dangerous white fat that is associated with obesity and a host of other health problems. Weight loss occurs as brown fat helps the body adjust to the cooler temperatures.
Does this mean exposure to extreme temperatures is necessary for weight loss? Not necessarily. Though the study of thermogenics shows that ice baths and drinking ice cold water do have an effect, the idea here is that weight loss is possible simply by lowering the thermostat. Winter months typically keep people indoors with the heat set at a comfortable level. Moving the thermostat down from 68 to 62 can make a difference, however. Doing so for even a few hours per day can help the body burn more fat.
Research continues on how cold affects the ability to lose weight and whether brown fat can be used to help reduce obesity. It is believed that increasing the internal temperature helps burn body fat at a faster rate.
Adjusting to a lower room temperature is by no means a replacement for daily exercise or a healthy eating plan. It isn’t a tool to make up for consuming too many calories. However, colder temperatures can aid weight loss when used in combination with proper diet and exercise. Think of it as another habit to support healthy living.