Do you know what the main uses of the energy are that our body uses everyday? The largest use of energy is to maintain our organs, such as the brain and the heart. Then the energy is used to keep our body temperature steady. Depending on the surrounding temperature, our body spends between a few percent to nearly 30% of its daily energy consumption in this way.
So, if you turn down the thermostat of your room to, say 65F instead of 75F, you will burn more calories just sitting around. One study done in Japan showed that people who sit in a room, where the temperature is set around 63F, for two hours a day for six weeks lost noticeable amounts of their body fat.
Another study done in the Netherlands showed that after people stayed in an environment of around 60F for six hours a day for 10 days, the researchers found that these people increased the amount of brown fat in their bodies.
Brown fat is an active heat generating fat and if you have more, you burn more calories. Although 50 g of white fat stores more than 300 kcal of energy, the brown fat can burn up to 300 kcal of energy a day. That makes a big difference.
NIH researchers also found that shivering from the cold could convert white fat into the brown fat. This is because the shivering creates the chemical which converts the white fat into the brown fat. They also mentioned that the exercise also creates the same chemical and could convert the white fat into the brown fat.
Of course, there is a hitch. It is well known that the death rate from heart attacks and strokes peaks during the winter. This is because the blood vessels are constricted to keep the body from losing heat. Especially, if you are suddenly exposed to the cold air, the blood pressure shoots up and if you have clogged blood vessels, you may suffer a heart attack or a stroke.
In fact, according to Australian National University study, the death rate of older people living in cold homes are much higher than those living in a home with a comfortable temperature. One reason is that the bodies of older people, especially those who are not physically active, are not sensitive to the change of temperature and also are less capable of generating heat.
The same is true for anorexic people. Their body cannot generate enough heat to keep the body temperature steady. Of course, people in this category do not need to lose any weight. Instead, they should work out and gain muscles for their health. Assuming that you are healthy, but slightly overweight, you may want to try this “cool weather” method. I don’t recommend to go out in the cold and shiver, but you may just want to lower the thermostat setting slightly and get used to the new setting and then lower it again. Or you can wear one layer of clothes less. Probably you won’t notice any weight loss in the short term, but after a year or so, you may lose 5 to 10 pounds from just doing nothing. This is good news!
This is also true while working out. You see some people wearing a sweat suit while working out to lose weight. Sure, they lose weight as they sweat more, but they gain it all back after drinking water. It is much better to work out with your skin exposed so that you can cool your body quicker.
When you work out at home, you may want to use an electric fan which evaporates your sweat and cools your body quickly. This will make your body generate more heat. Some of the cardio machines at a gym also have a fan built in. If your favorite machine has a fan, always use it.
Again, moderation is important. If you feel that it is too cold, it is too cold. Put an extra layer of cloths back on.
Cold exposure — an approach to increasing energy expenditure in humans. Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, January 2014
Irisin and FGF21 Are Cold-Induced Endocrine Activators of Brown Fat Function in Humans. Cell Metabolism, Volume 19, Issue 2, 4 February 2014
Heart-related deaths increase in winter regardless of climate.” Science Daily. Science Daily, 6 November 2012 The health impacts of cold homes and fuel poverty. BMJ, May 2011
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