Is shivering a form of exercise? Researchers think that cold weather can activate so-called brown fat, which has a calorie-burning effect.
Most of the time when we talk about body fat, we’re referring to white fat. That’s the type of fat we all know, which stores and releases energy.
Brown fat, on the other hand, is active. It requires energy just like your muscles and organs do. White fat doesn’t, which is why people don’t burn more calories if they gain more fat.
Interestingly, brown fat is often dormant. Researchers “activate” it by exposing subjects to cold weather. Could this be why we burn more calories in the cold?
A team of scientists looked at subjects in Minnesota, which has notoriously cold winters, to see if they burned more calories in the winter or summer. They found that there was no difference.
They concluded that cold weather can activate brown fat and burn calories, but only if you’re truly exposed to the elements. Sitting in your heated house or apartment, navigating to your heated car or taxi, then shopping in a heated grocery store isn’t enough to count as cold weather exposure.
The other problem is that most people don’t have much brown fat. In fact, it’s only recently been rediscovered because scientists used to believe that adults only had white fat. However, it looks to be a promising field of research, if we can find some way to harness the power of brown fat.