The All-Time Easiest Way to Lose Weight

The surprising benefit of being freezing (photo by Corbis)Here's a pleasant fact to remember the next time you're huddled at the bus stop, bracing against the latest round of arctic weather: That bone-chilling cold may actually be giving your bikini body a boost. Dutch researchers are proposing an innovative way to drop some extra pounds: Turn down the thermostat. In a paper published in the current issue of Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism, they point to public health efforts aimed at discouraging excessive calorie consumption, which have, for the most part, yielded unsatisfactory results. At the same time, most of us now spend 90 percent of our day indoors, cozy, warm, burning fewer calories to regulate our body heat. According to the study, exposure to colder temperatures could, over time, result in meaningful weight loss.

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Ready to get your chill on? While the idea might give you the shivers, especially during this exceptionally frigid winter, their research shows that being cold boosts metabolism by up to 30 percent. (And, in fact, the researchers note that the actual act of shivering bumps up metabolic rate fivefold, meaning it burns about 400 calories per hour –– that's more than walking, swimming, or riding a bicycle.) If you're suddenly having flashbacks to a forced polar bear swim at sleep-away camp, don't worry. The work builds on earlier research from Japan that found that when people spent only two hours per day at a manageable, albeit chilly, 62 degrees, they began spontaneously shedding fat after six weeks. The authors of the current study say that even lowering the indoor temperature to between 64 and 66 degrees for a couple hours a day could have a positive impact on weight loss. And they even found that after spending just 10 days in colder temperatures, most adults acclimate and no longer feel discomfort (children and seniors have a tougher time adapting, however).

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The paper points out that, in addition to burning calories, lowering your thermostat also has a positive impact on your pocketbook –– since lower indoor temps in the winter mean lower utility bills –– and maybe even the world. "Similarly to exercise training, we advocate temperature training," the researchers said in a release. "More-frequent cold exposure alone will not save the world, but is a serious factor to consider in creating a sustainable environment together with a healthy lifestyle."

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While not everybody wants to brave the cold, even for effortless weight loss, the study is part of a growing body of research that shows how small lifestyle changes –– not just dieting –– can help stave off obesity. Using a standing desk increases energy output by up to 20 percent, and also significantly reduces the risk of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, for example. Breaking that diet soda habit, meanwhile, can reset your taste buds and lead to fewer sugar cravings. Building muscle by adding a few minutes of old-school calisthenics such as squats and push-ups to your workout routine can rev up metabolic rate. And even where you eat counts, as researchers have found that noshing in front of the television adds an average of 228 calories to a meal, a stat that should scare you into turning off the tube at mealtime immediately.

And the ultimate lazy way to watch your weight? Get the proper amount of shut-eye. Many studies have shown that people who are sleep-deprived have a higher rate of obesity. Just don't forget to set the alarm for that wintry power walk.

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