It’s a blinking cold start to 2018 but here’s some good news to warm your health cockles. According to research, spending time in cooler temperatures can boost calorie burn by up to 30% (great for weight loss) while also offering additional health benefits. Here’s how…
It’s All There in Brown and White
Basically, we have 2 types of fat: Brown (healthy) and White (unhealthy). Brown Fat, so called because it has a rich supply of blood, actually helps the body burn fat in order to keep the body warm. White Fat encourages the storage of fat which most of us need to avoid.
Before the advent of central heating people needed more Brown Fat to self-regulate body temperature in cold conditions. Sadly, modern-day living conditions mean that, on average, 90% of our fat is the White variety.
We spend a significant amount of time indoors both in work and leisure and merely have to adjust the thermostat to keep us within a comfortable temperature range. However, staying in this “comfort zone” actually reduces our Brown Fat and increases White Fat and is another reason why, as a population, we store more fat and are significantly heavier than our ancestors.
Brown Fat and Shivering
When we are cold we shiver. This not only increases our metabolic rate 2-4 times but this vigorous involuntary muscle contraction activates Brown Fat to generate heat as well as activating the hormone Irisin – a fat-fighting powerhouse!
Irisin is called the “exercise hormone” because it is released during moderate aerobic activity (shivering included). It not only activates a protein that transforms White Fat into Brown Fat but it also inhibits the formation of fatty tissue. So let’s talk more about exercising…
Brown Fat and Exercising
An aerobic workout can increase your metabolism by 7-10 times above its resting level. It also triggers Brown Fat to burn more calories and, even better, Brown Fat will continue to burn energy even after you finish exercising thus burning calories at rest. Bonus!!
Exercise releases the hormone Irisin too which, in addition to its 2 benefits mentioned above, also improves heart function by boosting calcium levels required for heart contractions and, at higher levels, it has also been seen to reduce plaque build up in the arteries (preventing atherosclerosis).
Brown Fat and Irisin Take a Bow
So, increasing our body’s ratio of Brown Fat to White Fat helps protect against lifestyle-induced obesity and its related diseases by burning more calories and hampering the body’s mechanisms for storing fat.
Being cold makes us shiver and activates Brown Fat and the fat-fighting hormone Irisin. Irisin helps transform White Fat into Brown Fat and stops fatty tissue from forming.
We increase Brown Fat by spending more time outdoors and letting our bodies regulate our temperature. We increase Irisin if we do moderate aerobic activity such as a 30min (or more) walk, jog or cycle. Double benefits if you do this exercise outside!!
Interestingly, the more time you spend in the cold the more you will find that you can tolerate lower temperatures. When this happens, take it as a good sign that your body is producing more Brown Fat.
- Spend more time outdoors – at least an hour a day
- Take up an outdoor winter sport, hobby or activity
- Wear one less item of clothing – let your body regulate itself
- Turn the thermostat down – let your body acclimate itself
- Have nutritious snacks and meals prepared as all that shivering and activity depletes glycogen stores and makes us hungry