We already know that sitting at our desks all day every day is doing us a big disservice when it comes to our weight loss goals. Seriously—how many people can actually say they get in 10,000 or more steps on an average workday? Studies have even shown that sitting for more than three hours per day can cut your life short. And now, a surprising January 2014 study gives us another reason to get up out of our cozy office chairs and venture outside—especially when it’s cold.
According to researchers writing in the Cell Press publication Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, the warm indoor environments in which we spend most of our time could be partially to blame for our expanding waistlines. One of the article’s authors, Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt of Maastricht University Medical Center in The Netherlands, says that considering how much time we spend indoors, he and his team thought it was worth exploring how the thermostat-controlled temperature affects our health.
His team began researching this idea about 10 years ago and now have evidence to suggest that regularly exposing ourselves to colder temperatures might significantly affect our energy expenditure and be a healthy and sustainable way to burn fat.And it makes sense. When your body works to warm itself up, it expends energy and therefore burns calories. When you’re constantly comfortable, your body no longer has to work and can kick back and relax. The researchers say that non-shivering heat production can account for up to 30 percent of your body’s energy budget (for young and middle-aged adults), proving that lower temperatures can really influence your total energy expenditure.
The team also found that people got used to colder temperatures after a while, showing that our bodies can indeed regulate themselves and learn to be comfortable in cooler temperatures if we make the commitment. After a 10-day study where participants were in temps cooler than typical room temperature (15 degrees Celsius/59 F) for six hours per day, they experienced an increase in brown fat (which actually helps your body burn fat), felt more comfortable and shivered less.
Japanese researchers also found, through their own studies, that people experienced a decrease in body fat after spending two hours per day at 17 degrees Celsius (62.6 F) for six weeks. So, it seems that the most effective (and cost-efficient) way to shed a few pounds could simply be by turning that thermostat down and letting your body do a little more of the work. Or better yet, resist the urge to sit inside all day even when temps are super low—spending time out in the cold might help you in the long run. We’re sure it’ll take some getting used to at first, but the thought of a healthier body and lower heating bills sounds like a pretty sweet deal to us.
READ MORE: Get Past Your Psychological Weight Loss Barriers