With winter well and truly upon us you would be forgiven for treating yourself to an afternoon hot chocolate or a hearty meal or two; after all what better way to warm your insides when outside is so bleak? Unfortunately this tendency to indulge can lead to that dreaded ‘winter weight gain’ and be detrimental to your health.
But what if those chilly winter months could actually help you lose fat? Research has found that exposure to the cold could help counteract the tendency to gain weight during winter. Dr Paul Lee of Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research theorises that cooler temperatures may have an interesting effect on the body’s metabolism. According to Lee, the cold stimulates the creation of a unique type of tissue in the body called brown fat, which, under the right conditions, burns energy to generate heat to keep the body warm.
The most predominant form of fat in the body is known as white fat, which is made up of cells which store the fat that gathers when we overeat and don’t exercise. Brown fat contains cells that serve to burn white fat and, in doing so, diminishes excess energy by transforming it into heat. Brown fat can be found in small amounts in the lower neck and collar bone and is able to burn energy when stimulated by temperatures as high as 19 degrees celsius (so you don’t need to be sitting in the cold room at the local bottlo to kickstart it).
Therefore, exposure to the cold during the winter months actually fuels the creation and fat-burning activity of brown fat; and that troublesome winter fat gain need not weigh you down.
It is important to note, however, that brown fat is not active all the time and if a healthy diet and exercise regime is not maintained then the extra energy burnt during colder months is easily offset by the intake of extra kilojoules. Lee noted that boosting the energy burning function of brown fat may be a strategy to aid fat loss, but it should not replace a balanced diet and regular exercise.