What’s the Polar Vortex Got To Do With Weight Loss?
It’s been a hard winter here in Minneapolis, and in much of the rest of the country, for that matter. Unless you live in the deep south, you’ve probably endured some of the coldest weather in decades. Meteorologists have been throwing around terms like “polar vortex” to explain the bone-chilling cold, heavy snows, and persistent bad weather this year.
Sometimes I wish I were still in sunny Puerto Rico, where I was fortunate to spend some time earlier this winter. But guess what? There’s a potential upside to living in a deep freeze: New research shows that exposure to cold can boost weight loss!
That’s right. Spending time in cold temperatures may not be fun, but it can encourage weight loss. According to research by Dutch scientists, regular exposure to mild cold may be a “healthy and sustainable” way to boost weight loss. I’m not suggesting you should spend time in sub-zero temperatures and risk frostbit, though. When they say “mild cold” they’re essentially talking about cool temperatures.
Evidently, cold exposure accelerates the metabolism, so more calories are burned. There’s just one catch. Since most of us spend up to 90% of our time living in centrally-heated homes and workplaces, few of us are likely to reap the benefits of this phenomenon.
In an experiment by Japanese researchers, subjects spent two hours per day at about 63 degrees F and experienced decreases in body weight. Dutch researchers showed that people gradually adapt to being chilled, too, so that after spending six hours a day being chilled, for ten days, subjects didn’t even shiver in 59-degree surroundings. Up to 30% of the body’s energy budget goes to maintaining body temperature, so being cold forces your body to expend more energy, even when you’re inactive. Maybe you should consider lowering your thermostat for part of each day if you’re interested in boosting weight loss—-and increasing your tolerance for cold. It just might help.
van Marken Lichtenbelt et al. Cold exposure -- an approach to increasing energy expenditure in humans. Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, January 2014