The recent cold snap is an unwelcome reminder that winter is still very much here, but allow me to put a positive spin on it.
New research shows being cold burns more calories (duh!?) and that people who live in chillier climates are often leaner.
The other day as I was leafing through the February issue of “The Atlantic” magazine, I began reading an article about this phenomenon. A scientist named Ray Cronise has been studying obesity and temperature and has come to the conclusion that colder is better for us.
Comparing modern man to our ancestors, as well as the animal kingdom, Cronise says we rarely allow ourselves to be cold, moving from over-heated homes to equally warm cars and offices with only brief spates of outside time.
He advocates keeping our thermostats far below the comfortable (or even bearable) range — 55 to 65 degrees — and in his own life, eschews blankets and even sheets on his own bed. Sleeping in a bedroom 66 degrees or less creates the formation of brown fat, which is far more metabolically active than white fat. It actually burns calories to generate heat.
All this sounds reasonable, albeit horribly uncomfortable. Most of us are creatures of habit and comfort, especially living in Central Texas and being accustomed to nearly year-around warmth, (except for our freakishly cold spates of real winter). Cronise recommends not putting on that extra sweater when you get chilly, and even going coatless outside from time to time.
Perhaps wackiest of all is the creation of an ice vest a University of California professor invented after learning of Cronise’s research on cold. The vest — which was appropriately named “Cold Shoulder” — is meant to be worn either under or over one’s clothes and he claims that it will burn 250 calories per hour. It is loaded with ice packs and is recommended to be worn twice a day, “until the ice melts.”
Try as I might, I cannot envision myself ever (willingly) donning this garment, despite the lure of burning more calories. But I admit to being intrigued by the theory that feeling slightly chilly can reap big health rewards. The problem comes in actually allowing myself to be, well, cold. I can barely stand to splash cold water on my face, much less keep the thermostat turned down to Draconian levels.
“Cold really isn’t that miserable ... once you’ve gone through withdrawal and adapted to it,” Cronise assures us in the article. I guess if this is the case, then my sons are way ahead of me.
Most days, the 13-year-old views coat-wearing with the same horror as if I suggested he put on a dress. The 8-year-old is equally hardcore when he goes out to play in 55 degrees clad in only a flimsy T-shirt and jeans.
Now that I think about it, that ice vest could come in handy during the summer here. Though the ice would melt in a matter of minutes, and then what? Do you start sloshing when you walk? Not to mention it would be a bulky and strange thing to sport in a 100 degree climate. I can just imagine the conversation that would occur if I wore it while grocery shopping or walking the dog.
Think of how baffled and amused our hearty ancestors would be to know the lengths we modern folk will go to in order to stay slim.
Why don’t we just revert to wearing loin cloths and living outside?
Oh wait — some of us do. It’s called “Survivor.”