Now that we’ve entered the depths of winter, you’re probably tempted to stay hunkered down, sitting in your favorite chair by the fire, drinking a hot beverage.
But I recommend stepping out of your comfort zone—and directly into the cold—every so often, as a new study out of Austria found that regular cold exposure can actually help you shed unwanted pounds. And it all relates to how your body stores fat…
Brown fat burns more calories
You may not realize it, but your body actually contains two types of fat. Most of the fat in your body (and the type that you’re probably most familiar with) is called white fat. It’s found throughout your body, helps to store energy, and keeps your organs warm. Of course, too much of it, especially around the midsection, can lead to obesity and disease.
The second type of fat is called brown adipose tissue (BAT) and is better known as brown fat. It is considered the “good” type of fat, as it contains far more mitochondria (or “energy factories”) than regular, white fat. Plus, when exposed to the cold, brown fat “turns on” and starts producing heat. As part of this heat-production process, your body burns calories. Therefore—the more brown fat you have, the more calories you can burn.
In fact, in the new Austrian study I just mentioned, people with brown fat who experienced short-term exposure to the cold burned 15 percent more calories than people without it.
Unfortunately, most of the brown fat you’re born with disappears as you age. But we now know you can convert white fat into brown fat, with the help of one key vitamin...
Vitamin A helps turn white fat into brown fat
After the Austrian researchers published the results of their original research on brown fat last July, they began to look into ways we can turn white fat into brown fat…
It turns out, when you step out into the cold, your body sends vitamin A from the liver (where it’s stored) to your fat tissues, where it actually stimulates conversion of white fat to brown fat. Then, the “new” brown fat begins doing its job of generating heat and burning calories.
So, by upping your vitamin A intake and exposing yourself to the cold, you can actually convert your “bad” white fat into “good,” calorie-burning brown fat. Which, of course, helps you lose weight…or at least helps slams the brakes on becoming overweight in the first place.
Walk through the winter wonderland
So, this winter, rather than cocooning inside when the temperatures plummet, go for a brisk walk outside in the cold a few times a week. You can even try fun physical activities—such as ice skating, sledding, tobogganing, building a snowman, or simply strolling and communing with Nature.
But remember, you don’t want to overdo it…
Science consistently shows that you only need to engage in 140 to 150 minutes total per week of light-to-moderate exercise to improve your health and longevity. Plus, this moderate amount won’t wear down your heart, joints, eyes, gastrointestinal tract, or genitourinary system like excessive exercise can.
You should also look for ways to optimize your vitamin A levels to boost your body’s natural calorie-burning activity. But here’s an important note…
I don’t recommend actually supplementing with vitamin A, as it can build up in your fat stores, if you get too much.
Instead, simply aim to eat plenty of foods rich in vitamin A—including eggs, meat, fish, and dairy. (All key food groups in the healthy, whole Mediterranean diet.) In addition, make sure to enjoy lots of yellow and orange fruits and vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, pumpkin, squash, carrots, and cantaloupe. These foods contain loads of the kind of carotenoids that your body naturally and safely converts to vitamin A.
I’ve long said that we need a more sophisticated understanding of how the body works when it comes to fitness and weight loss. And studies like these are helping improve our knowledge…and hopefully our actions.
To learn more about the weight-loss benefits of cold exposure and vitamin A, keep an eye out for the upcoming February 2021 issue of my Insiders’ Cures monthly newsletter. If you’re not yet a subscriber, now is the perfect time to become one!
“The Presence of Active Brown Adipose Tissue Determines Cold-Induced Energy Expenditure and Oxylipin Profiles in Humans.” J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2020 Jul 1;105(7):dgaa183. doi.org/10.1210/clinem/dgaa183.
“Intact vitamin A transport is critical for cold-mediated adipose tissue browning and thermogenesis.” Mol Metab. 2020 Sep 28;42:101088. doi.org/10.1016/j.molmet.2020.101088.