The health benefits of shivering?

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The New York Times reports that central heating may be making us fatter.

The New York Times reports that central heating may be making us fatter.

Americans like to crank up the heat in the winter — and some scientists think it’s making us fat. Turn down the thermostat, they say, and you might lose a few pounds.

The link between ambient temperature and weight is not completely far-fetched. When we’re exposed to extreme cold, we shiver, an involuntary reaction that makes our skeletal muscles contract to generate heat, burning extra calories in the process.

And even in mildly cold conditions, like in a chilly room with the thermostat turned down to the lower 60s, people generate extra heat without shivering.

Besides shivering, jumping up and down, etc., our bodies activate "brown fat" as a warming mechanism. 

To be clear, heat and cold are not the primary cause of obesity.  Overeating and lack of exercise are the main culprits.  This just reminds us that, in the big picture, in numerous ways, modern technology has created drastic changes in human society in a relatively short time.  There are unintended consequences for the environment and for our bodies. 

In most ways, technology improves our health and quality of life.  Who would want to un-invent central heating?  No doubt it saves many lives.  But it is a shock to a system built to resist the elements -- keep in mind that Homo sapiens is a species that has evolved gradually over the millennia.

It's shaping up to be a nice mild weekend across NC.  Let's all try to get outside and move about some. 


John James, M.A.

Research Analyst, Clergy Health Initiative

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