Not all body fat is created equal, at least according to two new studies reported by the New York Times last week. One study found that brown fat burns calories "like a furnace" when you're cold, and another found that regular white fat can be converted into calorie-burning brown fat while you exercise.
The first study found that brown fat burns glucose as well as other stores of fat when its own are depleted in order to keep the study participants warm. The other study found that in mice exercise creates a hormone that may be turning those dangerous white fat stores into fuel-burning brown fat. These studies aren't the first to identify the seemingly magical properties of brown fat. Brown fat has been known for years to be a calorie-torching element found mostly in those who are leaner, younger, or women (compared to older or obese people or men).
More research is necessary to see just how brown fat can help promote weight loss, but even so, by making a few simple changes you can take advantage of the findings. How can you possibly increase your own store of brown fat? Read on for some metabolism-boosting tips.
Turn down the heat: A recent study found that Americans who used their heaters more weighed more than their colder counterparts. The study found that temps in the low 60s are perfect for activating calorie-burning brown fat as a way for your body to keep you warm, but the increase in the use of central heat means many people don't experience cooler temperatures for very long. Before you turn the thermostat dial up on the next chilly day, let your brown fat work for you (if you're still cold, try warming up by doing heartbeat-raising exercises like jumping or push-ups instead of increasing the thermostat temp).
Exercise in the cold: If brown fat is activated both when you're cold as well as when you exercise, why not do both? Shivering burns 200 calories for 30 minutes, and a study found that exercising in the cold can burn 13 percent more calories than exercising in room temperature. But that's not to say that you should be uncomfortably (or dangerously) freezing just for a few extra calories burned. Even when you're bundled up appropriately, you'll still be able to find the effects of brown fat when the temperatures are low. And you'll also be able to use resistance from the wind or snow to up your exercise's effectiveness. So when you can (and if it's safe), take advantage of the outdoor temps and move your workout outdoors.