Isn’t it time you stepped outside of your comfort zone? We’re not talking about emotional risks here. We’re talking about temperature.
Being colder—or hotter—than normal may help you burn more fat, lose more weight and better regulate your blood sugar. The good news: You don’t have to shiver in the freezing cold or spend the day in a sweat lodge to get the benefits.
Background: When you’re in a colder environment, your body has to work harder to stay as warm as it needs to be. One key way your body heats itself up is by activating brown fat, which burns blood fats and glucose (blood sugar).
When you’re in a warmer environment, your body responds by perspiring to cool you down. Like aerobic exercise, exposure to heat—in a hot tub or sauna, say—improves circulation, which helps move glucose from the blood into the muscles, thus reducing high blood sugar levels.
Study: Researchers from the Netherlands reviewed studies that evaluated the health effects of straying from the comfort temperature zone.
On the cold side of the equation, they ignored extreme studies with freezing temps that induced shivering—that’s just not practical in everyday life. Instead, they reviewed studies with milder colder indoor temps—between 59°F and 66°F. That’s enough to stimulate the body to generate more internal heat without shivering. They also looked at exposure to hot environments, such as hot tubs.
Results: There was more evidence for beneficial effects from cold temperatures. Examples…
- In healthy lean young men, being in a 63°F environment for two hours a day for six weeks led to more brown fat activation and more calorie burning. The men lost about one and a half pounds on average.
- In men and women with type 2 diabetes, many of whom were overweight or obese, being exposed to a chilly 59°F for six hours a day for 10 days improved sensitivity to insulin by a whopping 43%. (Making the body more sensitive to insulin makes it easier to regulate blood glucose and is a key to controlling diabetes.)
- In normal-weight men and women ages 19 to 60, sleeping in a room set to 66°F led to burning more calories and lower blood sugar after meals than when the room was set to 75°F.
Heat was also linked to better blood sugar control. Although most studies involved extreme heat exposure—think Army desert research—one small study of adults with diabetes found that after sitting in a hot tub (100°F to 105.8°F) for 30 minutes six days a week for three weeks, the participants had lost an average of 3.75 pounds and had a drop in fasting glucose levels.
Surprising finding: When it comes to indoor temperatures and comfort, we’re wimps compared to earlier generations. Historical research reveals that in the 19th century, the Dutch considered indoor temperatures as low as 55°F comfortable. And we’re getting wimpier. From 1978 to 2011 in England, the average indoor temperature in homes has gone up seven degrees.
Bottom line: Let your body work to keep you warm—or cool. It’s good for you. Examples…
- Set your thermostat for cooler temperatures for several hours each day.
- Try sleeping in a cool room—say, in the mid-60s. It’s better for sleep anyway.
- When the weather’s cool, dress lightly and take brisk outdoor walks, like Americas top diabetes doctor recommends.
Enjoy the heat, too. If it’s medically safe for you to spend time in a hot tub or sit in a steam room or sauna, go for it. Bonus: Saunas are great for your brain.