Frequent exposure to mild cold over sustained periods, such as by turning down the thermostats in buildings, may prompt people to burn more calories, and possibly maintain a healthier body weight, researchers wrote.
The idea is that rodent studies have shown that nonshivering thermogenesis consumes brown adipose tissue, and in humans, the response increases anywhere from a few percent to 30% when young, healthy adults are exposed to mild cold temperatures, such as from 64 to 66 °F.
The researchers, who reported their work in Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism, are now hypothesizing that prompting large amounts of people to spend more energy to maintain thermal balance may positively affect health on a population scale, and also that regular exposure to mild cold keeps the peripheral vascular system in motion.
“Maximal thermal comfort in the built environment may increase our susceptibility to obesity and related disorders, and in parallel requires high energy use in buildings,” the authors wrote. “Mild cold exposure increases body energy expenditure without shivering and without compromising our precious comfort. Hence, rethinking our indoor climate by allowing ambient temperatures to drift may protect both health and bank account.”
This group of researchers from The Netherlands has been working on the idea for years now, having reported in one study that people can adapt to cooler environments and in another study that the cooler environment can burn brown adipose tissue in humans as well as rodents.
“More frequent cold exposure alone will not save the world, but is a serious factor to consider in creating a sustainable environment together with a healthy lifestyle,” they concluded.