If you are not the biggest fan of winter and low temperatures, perhaps your opinion will change after you find out that the low temperature helps your body burn more calories.
Scientists at the University of California-Berkeley report that there are two kinds of body fat: what’s called “brown fat” and what’s called “white fat.” The former triggers your body to burn its own fat to keep you warm, the latter encourages the storage of body fat. Unfortunately about 90% of our body fat is the white kind.
Working with mouse embryos, the Berkeley researchers discovered that when they raised the level of the protein (known as transcription factor Zfp516) to which the embryos were exposed, baby mice were born with higher amounts of brown fat. What raised the level of the protein? Exposure to cold air—and the more exposure to cold, the greater the production of brown fat. When the same researchers disabled the gene for the Zfp516 protein, the mouse embryos did not produce any brown fat.
When all the baby mice were fed the same high-fat diet, mice with no Zfp516 became obese, while those with the protein gained far less weight. Increased levels of Zfp516 also appeared to enable white fat to burn calories as brown fat does.
We spend more time indoors than previous generations did. As a result, we have less brown fat and more white fat than our grandparents and great-grandparents, which is yet another reason why we tend to be heavier than they were.
One of the ways to encourage the conversion of metabolically inactive white fat to metabolically active brown fat is to spend time outside when the thermometer dips.
Simply being outdoors in the cold air enables your body to burn more calories as it makes an effort to warm your body.
To be clear, shivering on a cold could never provide all the benefits of actual exercise – which can also trigger brown fat to burn more calories. But at least we can take heart in knowing that it may help keep off some of that dreaded winter weight.