Colder Temps Could Increase Energy Expenditure, Encourage Weight Loss
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redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
While many animals pack on extra pounds as temperatures decrease, new research appearing in Wednesday’s edition of the journal Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism suggests that people looking to lose weight could benefit from regular exposure to the cold.
Conversely, the study also concludes that keeping warm and comfortable in our homes and offices could be responsible for the increasing number of overweight and obese men and women throughout the US and worldwide, first author Dr. Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt of Maastricht University Medical Center in The Netherlands and his colleagues reported in the study.
“Since most of us are exposed to indoor conditions 90 percent of the time, it is worth exploring health aspects of ambient temperatures,” Dr. van Marken Lichtenbelt explained. “What would it mean if we let our bodies work again to control body temperature? We hypothesize that the thermal environment affects human health and more specifically that frequent mild cold exposure can significantly affect our energy expenditure over sustained time periods.”
The researchers began analyzing the impact of mild cold weather approximately 10 years ago, as little research had been conducted on the matter. Previous temperature-related studies focused largely on extreme conditions experienced by military personnel, first responders and others.
However, investigators began to discover noteworthy differences in how people responded to mild cold conditions, leading researchers to discover that adults also possess heat-generating, calorie-burning brown adipose tissue in varying quantities. Now, van Marken Lichtenbelt’s team reports they have discovered evidence that more variable indoor temperatures (more in line with outdoor conditions) could be “beneficial” to the weight loss process.
While additional research will be required to determine the long term effects, a team of Japanese researchers reported a decrease in body fat in subjects who spent two hours per day at 62.6 degrees Fahrenheit for a period of six weeks. Likewise, the new study authors had subjects spend six hours in cold weather each day for 10 days, and found that they had increased brown fat and were more comfortable in temperatures of 59 degrees Fahrenheit.
Those individuals were also found to shiver less in those colder conditions, and in younger and middle-aged men and women, non-shivering heat production has been associated for up to 30 percent of the body’s energy consumption. This means that lower temperatures can drastically affect a person’s overall energy expenditure.
“Indoor temperature in most buildings is regulated to minimize the percentage of people dissatisfied. This results in relatively high indoor temperatures in wintertime,” the authors wrote. “This is evident in offices, in dwellings and is most pronounced in care centers and hospitals. By lack of exposure to a varied ambient temperature, whole populations may be prone to develop diseases like obesity.”