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For those perennial fights over the thermostat - "Turn it down, it's too hot!" "Turn it up, it's too cold!" - science may have some new ammunition. Turns out that turning down the thermostat revs up our metabolism and may help us lose weight, according to new research.
The key, apparently, is increasing our brown fat. Our body contains two types of fat: white fat, which stores energy (meaning calories) and collects on our thighs and bellies, and brown fat, stored in small amounts around the shoulders, which burns energy to maintain the body's temperature. Previous studies have shown that lean people have the most brown fat, while heavy people have the least.
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So how can you increase your brown fat? Try turning down the thermostat.
New research finds that cooler temperatures in the home and office promote the growth of brown fat, which could help in the fight against obesity. A new study published in June in the journal Diabetes found that young men who slept at a bedroom temperature of 66 degrees for four weeks generated twice as much brown fat as when they slept at warmer temperatures. In fact, when the bedroom was warmed to a toasty 81 degrees for a month, their bodies lost the extra brown fat they had accumulated.
"Just by sleeping in a colder room, they gained metabolic advantages" that could, over time, lessen their risk for diabetes and other metabolic problems, Francesco S. Celi, the study's senior author and chairman of the division of endocrinology and metabolism at Virginia Commonwealth University, told the New York Times.
Other studies have found the same result. A Japanese study last year found that being exposed to a cooler temperature - about 63 degrees - for two hours a day for six weeks increased brown fat and decreased overall body fat as the body burned more calories. Dutch research, published this year, also showed that turning down the thermostat helped the body burn more calories to stay warm.
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What all this research indicates is that keeping rooms on the cool side may help kick up your metabolism a few notches. There's also, as Celi told the Times, another benefit, especially to keeping your office chilly: It "keeps meetings short."
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