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Lost Weight By Lowering Your Thermostat?

By Christa

When you hear someone say ‘how low can you go?’ what’s the first image that comes to mind? A limbo stick, perhaps? Or maybe a scale? Or are you like me, and a picture of a programmable thermostat pops into your head? I don’t know where you keep your thermostat in the wintertime, but around here it’s set to 65F during the day. Yep, 65F.

Used to be, we kept it at balmy temperatures – I’m talking shorts weather, all year round – but that’s because I lived in NYC where it’s pretty uncommon to actually pay for heat. In Boston, we dropped it to 68F. Then a while ago, it somehow got set to 65F without anyone really knowing how, and La Paloma didn’t seem to mind and The Beard doesn’t care and the gas bill never looked better… oh, and using less gas is green, too… so I left it.

Now you can bet when I read on Treehugger that research published in the journal Obesity Reviews seems to have discovered a link between increasing average indoor temperatures and rising rates of obesity, I was suddenly feeling pretty good about my little socks-and-slippers house.

lower your thermostat to lost weight

TIME has picked up on the story, linking to a study by researchers at University College London:

The authors of the new study note that average indoor temperatures have risen steadily in the U.K. and U.S. over the last several decades, as central heating has become increasingly available — and rates of obesity have risen too. The average temperature in British living rooms went from 64.9 degrees F to 70.3 degrees F, from 1978 to 2008. Living rooms in the U.S. have long been heated to at least 70 degrees F.

It’s all about the modern expectation of comfort – we want to be warm and we can be warm, but when we’re warm there’s not all that much going on metabolically. But when it’s just a bit colder, even when we’re not shivering, the calorie-burning power of brown fat is activated. It starts working to warm us up, and it sticks around. When we’re warm all the time, on the other hand, levels of brown fat decrease and there goes that ability to burn a few extra calories in the cold. 100 to 200 per day, but hey, that adds up!

The only problem? Dr. C. Ronald Kahn, a Harvard Medical School professor who does research on brown fat, says people don’t like to keep their houses chilly and won’t stick with it. What do you think? Is weight loss enough of a reason to drop your thermostat in the wintertime?

6 Responses to “Lost Weight By Lowering Your Thermostat?”

  1. Libby Says:

    I’m not entirely convinced. Its a nice idea, though it doesn’t correlate to my experience at all. I count myself in the Big Girl category and am a grad student in Virginia. Winter doesn’t get all that cold (and I’m grad-student-poor), so if my heater is on at all, its on at no more than 55. My diet is pretty consistently greens and grilled cheese throughout the year. I’ve never really noticed a difference. It would be really awesome though.

  2. aurumgirl Says:

    I find the link between high temperatures and weight loss spurious. If this is in fact true, why is it that all swimmers who train for competitive swimming sports are now trained in pools with water temperatures above 80 degrees F, since it was discovered that pools heated to 76 degrees (the old standard) made it impossible for the swimmers to meet their weight/body fat requirements? Cold water temperatures forced these highly active athletes to pack on fat. The warmer water eliminated their need to pack on subcutaneous fat as a means of protection. As soon as the water temperatures went up, the athletes dropped the weight.

    Works the same way for other ambient temperatures, in the home. As it does in the world at large.

    Make an argument for layering on sweaters and conserving energy for heat–that’s all good–and there are a multitude of ways to do this without even feeling it, such as lowering your thermostat at night and when you’re not home, etc. etc. But I’m thinking this “weight loss” connection is so hole ridden it must have been published in The Onion.

  3. Christa Says:

    @aurumgirl I don’t know that I buy it, myself – it’s not as if there aren’t plenty of other things making our weight jump. But there is a difference between ‘brown fat’ and white adipose tissue – brown fat in adults is related not to white fat, but to skeletal muscle, according to Wikipedia. I don’t know if the brown fat – which was the fat the studies were concerned with – would be a noticeable part of a body fat percentage measurement since it only exists in a few small areas of the body (upper chest and neck). My guess is that the fat that the swimmers put on is normal white fat, not brown fat which has been shown to be more metabolically active in cold temps.

  4. Ann Says:

    I prefer chilly rooms, personally. Too bad my building has the heating pumped centrally and I have no control over it… so I tend to leave my windows partially open, even in winter.

  5. Christa Says:

    @Ann I had a roommate in an apartment where heat was free that would keep it pumping all the time. Even at night. It got so I was opening my windows in wintertime just so I could sleep!

  6. Clark Reeder Says:

    My partner and I constantly argue over the thermostat! Maybe if I show this to her, she’ll let me turn it down 😉

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