Lower the temperature and see a whittled waistline?

Elizabeth Newman
Elizabeth Newman

While the McKnight's offices are much nicer than your average newsroom environment — there are, for example, no large piles of dusty newspapers stacked on desks, or bold rodents — this winter posed a specific challenge that may ring a bell with many long-term care facility managers.

The heat in the office developed an attitude similar to an unreliable employee: It showed up when the spirit moved it.  

But it turns out this might have had a side benefit for a certain intrepid reporter who sometimes resorted to wearing gloves and hat: A recent study showed that lower home temperatures in the winter were associated with lower waist measurements.

Specifically, elderly adults grow bigger in the middle when they turn the heat up during cold season, according to researchers at Japan's Nara Medical University School of Medicine Department of Community Health and Epidemiology.

The reason? Cold exposure triggers thermogenesis in brown fat, which is the “good calorie burning fat.”  In a HEIJO-KYO community study of 1,100 Japanese adults with an average age of 72, researchers measured their abdominal circumference for four years in October and April. They also measured the participants' indoor home temperature every 10 minutes for a 48-hour period during the same cold season.

The 64 participants who had indoor temperatures at the lowest level — 50°F or lower — had an average waist circumference of 32 inches. (As a side note, if I kept my home that cold, I wouldn't lose weight because I would never move from being covered by 10 fleece blankets, except to make hot chocolate. I am basically a lizard that only survives due to external heat forces and the kindness of strangers.)

The 164 participants who kept their house at 68 degrees or higher (which, as another side note, seems eminently reasonable) had an average waistline of 33.4 inches. Researchers adjusted results for factors such as age, sex, physical activity, total calorie intake and socioeconomic status (although there was no data on whether the participants and I have similar cold-blooded veins). The researchers will present their results this week at the Endocrine Society's 98th annual meeting in Boston.

From a practical standpoint, long-term care facilities want to make sure residents are comfortable, which may mean living areas set at 72 degrees or above. But while more research is needed about how to make best use of this lovely calorie-burning fat study, it may be worth turning the heat down in your home or office if you need, as many of us do, to whittle one's waistline. 

Despite my eternal love of fireplaces, scalding cups of coffee and heavy sweaters, a slightly colder environment could be a small price to pay if it allowed an extra chocolate chip cookie.

Elizabeth Newman is Senior Editor at McKnight's. Follow her @TigerELN.



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McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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