The Upside of Cold Temperatures


imageLiving in an apartment building in New York City has its benefits and its challenges. One that falls in the latter category: having little control over the heat. Some days it can reach 80 degrees inside during the winter prompting us to crack a window to let the heat out. Other days, when the boiler is having troubles, we can be found huddled on the couch, swaddled in sweaters and blankets as the temperature hovers in the low 50s.

It’s hard to think of anything good on days when we are reduced to burrowing in our blankets and it’s even too cold to take my kids out for a run in the park. Those “days” have lasted for weeks, it seems, and during that time the hours drag on, and I feel more and more isolated. Playdates are few and far between as everyone else is as tired of bundling and unbundling themselves and their kids as I am.

This year, for the first time, I’m feeling the “winter blues” and a mild sort of desperation. The cycle of freezing cold to bearable to freezing cold again has me wondering if we’re doomed to an eternal winter. I’m definitely feeling stuck in long, slow, lonely days of cold and darkness. And I’m looking for any sort of good news or something to celebrate.

And I think, perhaps, I may have found it. Or something good that can come out of these polar vortexes and cold spells, anyway — or at least that I can use to justify another cup of hot chocolate. It turns out that living in chillier temperatures causes your body to burn more calories to maintain a normal body heat. As NPR reported earlier this week, researchers in the Netherlands found that keeping the inside temperature a bit chilly — between 62 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit — can lead, over time, to weight loss.

This is because when you are subject to lower temperatures, your body’s “brown fat” has to work harder to keep you at a healthy 98.6. That hard work means more calories burned — not a lot more, but some.

So if you do have control over your thermostat — and you are looking for little ways to burn more calories — taking advantage of the cold could prove to be an efficient use of energy. (However, it should by no means be your only method of maintaining a healthy weight. Diet and exercise are always the first two lines of defense!)

And if you don’t have control of how warm your dwelling gets, well then, when the building’s boiler goes out, at least you can take comfort in additional energy expended — and try to convince yourself that there is indeed a benefit to cold temperatures. That’s what I’m going to tell myself, anyway. I hope it’ll take a little bit of the edge off those winter blues.


photo credit: Lizzie Heiselt