Does turning down your central heating really help with weight loss?

Dutch scientists claim drop in temperatures could keep you slim

David Baker
by David Baker on 24th January, 2014

The latest research from a group of Dutch scientists suggests room temperatures should closely match those outdoors, as such measures provide widespread health benefits.

They claim that overly warm homes could be stopping people from losing weight, so reducing the central heating by a degree or two could help you shed unwanted pounds.

This would also reduce your energy consumption, ensuring that energy bills are lower, making the method both healthy and cost-effective.

The results of the study follow ten years of research into how varying temperatures affect the human metabolism.

Cutting energy consumption

The body creates heat internally in order to stay warm and the research suggests that this process can take up 30% of the body’s energy consumption.

It was also found that the body adapted to lower temperatures – but not ones low enough to induce shivering – over time.

The results follow those from a group of Japanese scientists who found that volunteers who spent two hours a day at 17°C experienced weight loss.

However, the study was focused on healthy, young and middle aged people and excluded the elderly so the results are not for everyone.

The science behind the study

The research team was based at Maastricht University and Dr Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt led the project.

“Since most of us are exposed to indoor conditions 90% of the time, it is worth exploring health aspects of ambient temperatures,” he explained.

“What would it mean if we let our bodies work again to control body temperature? We hypothesise that the thermal environment affects human health and more specifically that frequent mild cold exposure can significantly affect our energy expenditure over sustained time periods.”

Having the central heating on at higher levels increases energy costs and can place more pressure on the boiler in the home, so it appears that turning it down a degree or two could have several benefits.

The cold temperature training aspect of the experiment suggested that acclimatisation was responsible for increasing the levels of brown fat found in the body.

“Acclimatisation has been shown to rev up brown fat in rodents, and it seems possible that it could do the same in people,” explained van Maken Lichtenbelt.

Brown fat is different to white fat in that it burns calories instead of storing them so high levels of it could potentially aid weight loss, as well as having beneficial effects on blood sugar tolerance and metabolism.

Turning down the thermostat could potentially save on energy bills, but it should be done to ensure body temperatures do not drop low enough to induce shivering, as this can have negative health effects.