Face the chill, lose weight

  • AFP
  • |
  • Updated: Jan 24, 2014 14:55 IST
Tackling weight loss could be as simple -- or uncomfortable -- as lowering the thermostat and living in chillier conditions.

In fact, overheated homes and offices during the cold winter months could be partly responsible for our expanding waistlines, researchers say.

It’s a notion that stems from the fact that most people spend 90 percent of their time indoors, where the knee-jerk reaction is to pump up the thermostat as soon as the mercury dips outside, pointed out lead researcher Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt.

But what would happen if people were forced to regulate their own body temperatures without the miracle of indoor heating?

According to Lichtenbelt and his team, prolonged and frequent exposure to mild cold -- between 15 degrees C (59F) and 17C (62.6F) -- was seen to help activate brown fat in adults, the type of heat-generating fat that burns calories instead of storing them.

The study builds on previous research out of Japan that showed a decrease in body fat when subjects were forced to endure indoor temperatures of 17C for two hours a day over six weeks.

Furthermore, though uncomfortable at first, it seems people are able to get used to the cold over frequent, prolonged exposure, says the Dutch team.

When subjects were exposed to colder temperatures for six hours a day over 10 days, scientists found they had increased their brown fat. Participants also reported feeling more comfortable and shivered less at 15C.

Really keen to lose the last few pounds? Lower the thermostat enough to provoke a good shiver, as a good cold-induced palpitation can increase heat burning and calorie expenditure by as much as fivefold above the resting metabolic rate.

“...rethinking our indoor climate by allowing ambient temperatures to drift may protect both health and bank account,” concludes the study.

The research was published out of Maastricht University Medical Centre in the journal Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism.

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