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Turn down the thermostat to support weight loss, say researchers

A Nest thermostat is installed in a home. (REUTERS/George Frey)

New research suggests weight loss isn’t just about living a healthy lifestyle—the temperature of the space you live in may have an impact too.

In a new article published in Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, researchers examined evidence on whether temperature can impact an individual’s ability to regulate body temperature, generate heat and burn fat.

Previous research has indicated that prolonged exposure to mildly cold temperatures can effect a person’s energy expenditure over a period of time. One research group from Japan discovered that after people spent two hours per day in a 62.6 degrees F climate, they experienced a decrease in body fat after six weeks.

Furthermore, the researchers also discovered people adapt to colder temperatures over time. Study author Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt, of Maastricht University Medical Center in The Netherlands, studied a group of 17 subjects living in climate-controlled respiration chambers heated to 59 F for 6 hours a day. After 10 days, participants saw an increase in ‘healthy’ brown fat, felt more comfortable and shivered less compared to at the beginning of the study.

Brown fat is considered to be a healthy fat because it uses energy from food or energy stored in white fat to produce heat.

“Brown fat can be ‘turned on’ when you get cold,” van Marken Lichtenbelt told FoxNews.com. “Instead of shivering, you can turn on brown fat to warm up.”

Heat production affects energy balance, and thereby can affect our body weight, van Marken Lichtenbelt said. The researchers said that mildly cold temperatures – around 62 degrees – encourage the body to use nonshivering thermogenesis (NST), a process in which the body burns brown fat to heat the body.

Because indoor temperatures in most buildings are regulated, people are typically exposed to relatively high indoor temperatures during winter months. The researchers concluded that a lack of exposure to ambient temperature leaves populations prone to developing obesity.

They suggest that that keeping living spaces at temperatures closer to outdoor conditions may be healthier for people and also feel more pleasant. Van Marken Lichtenbelt maintained that temperatures should be in line with the outside temperatures – but not exactly the same, so people avoid both sweating or shivering.

“My message is that variable indoor temperatures and having more control can create a more healthy environment,” van Marken Lichtenbelt said. “Physiological studies now show that the cold can be healthy.”