Study Drop: Can Shivering Burn Calories the Way Exercise Can?

by Anna Maltby

Edward SteichenEdward SteichenIf the polar vortex is getting you down, take heart: A new study in Cell Metabolism finds that shivering may have some of the same calorie-burning, metabolism-boosting effects as exercise does.

Specifically, the researchers found that when the body shivers, it produces a hormone that stimulates the production of brown fat (a gross-sounding, but actually-awesome kind of tissue that burns energy in order to maintain the body's core temperature) and improves your metabolism.

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That hormone is called irisin, and we're still learning about its functions as scientists just discovered it in 2012 -- they found that it is produced by the skeletal muscle after exercise.

"We decided to study this hormone because we were wondering why skeletal muscle, an organ that burns energy, should stimulate the function of brown fat, another organ that burns energy as well," study author Francesco Celi, M.D., told SELF. "We reasoned that shivering, an uncomfortable and energy-inefficient means of maintaining the core temperature, stimulates the brown fat which is particularly energy efficient in converting chemical energy in heat."

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Turns out, they were right: "From the standpoint of energy conservation and evolution this hypothesis makes sense, and our experimental data in humans and in cell culture systems support our original hypothesis," Dr. Celi says.

So does this mean that hanging around outside right now could make you skinnier?

"This is a bit of a stretch," Dr. Celi says. "At the present time we know that shivering is an effective way of stimulating the release of irisin, which in turn has the ability of promoting the expansion of brown fat. Whether this results in measurable and clinically relevant endpoints remains to be demonstrated."

Ok fine. Sigh. But we're guessing this won't be the last you'll hear about irisin.

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