Health

Upside of your freezing office: You may be burning more calories

Jan. 22, 2014 at 12:01 PM ET

Nest thermostat
George Frey / Getty Images
Turning your thermostat down could be one way to fight obesity.

An upside of your freezing cold office: Dutch endocrinologists argue in a new report that exposure to mild cold temperatures – around 64 to 66 degrees – can help you lose weight.

The theory goes like this: Weight is determined by energy intake (the calories you consume) and energy output (the calories you burn). The authors of this new paper hypothesize that setting the thermostat to a cooler temperature will make our bodies work harder to warm themselves – which means more calories burned.

Keeping the thermostat turned low is not the solution to the problem of obesity – because there is, of course, no single answer, says Dr. W. D. van Marken Lichtenbelt, lead author of the paper. But Dr. Jeffrey Mechanick, a New York City endocrinologist who was not involved in this report, says it's a “reasonable” hypothesis.

“They say, ‘Look, this is a serious problem; we’ve tried a bunch of different things, and nothing appears to be working that well, so we have to think outside of the box,’ ” says Mechanick, president of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists.

The authors say there is evidence that cold temperatures activate brown adipose tissue, a form of fat that generates heat by burning calories from regular fat. “They’re using those principles to say, ‘Well, maybe there’s an easier way. Maybe if we could train somebody to be in cold, that training could have them burn off calories and generate heat,’ ” Mechanick says.

It’s still just a hypothesis for now, but one that deserves further testing, Mechanick says. “As long as readers don’t equate that with, everybody should go out there and start going into the cold, thinking that this will help them lose weight,” he says.

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