After a few hours of shovelling in the cold, there’s nothing better than curling up with a mug of hot chocolate in a warm, cozy house. But a new study by British researchers suggests that keeping our homes too toasty might actually be linked to obesity, according to a report on the New York Times Well blog.
The study, published in Obesity Reviews, looked at rising indoor temperatures in the UK and other developed countries. While the average British living room in the late 70s was heated to around 18ºC, in 2008, it had risen to 21ºC. Though it may not seem like a significant increase, these higher temperatures may translate to burning fewer calories and packing on the pounds.
How does cold weather relate to burning calories? Our bodies carry a store of brown fat, which is activated by cold weather to heat up the body’a process known as “non-shivering thermogenesis.” But the warmer we keep our homes, the less this tissue is activated, resulting in fewer calories being burned. And it’s not limited to central heating’the amount of time we spend in climate-controlled offices and heated cars doesn’t help, either.
"Increased time spent indoors, widespread access to central heating and air conditioning, and increased expectations of thermal comfort all contribute to restricting the range of temperatures we experience in daily life and reduce the time our bodies spend under mild thermal stress, meaning we’re burning less energy," explains study author Fiona Johnson, researcher at University College London, in a news release. "This could have an impact on energy balance, and ultimately have an impact on body weight and obesity."
So lower your thermostat a few degrees today, to help your body re-adjust to cooler indoor temps and keep that brown fat working for you. And if you start to get chilly, skip the sweater in favour of a few simple moves that will help you warm up in no time.