Turn the Heat Up (Or Down!) On Your Health

Science already shows that fatty foods aren’t helping your heart function, and a sedentary lifestyle may up your odds of developing certain conditions. But can the temperature in your office impact your disease risk? Shockingly, it could, according to a new study published in Building Research & Information.

The study tested temperatures falling slightly outside the standard human “comfort zone” in buildings, which is roughly 69 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Since mild cold boosts metabolism, the researchers suggest that this could have positive impacts for health conditions like obesity and diabetes.  

After 10 days of intermittent cold temperatures, the study authors found that type-2 diabetes patients saw an increase of more than 40 percent in insulin sensitivity. Not only could this help reduce heating and cooling costs, they say, but stepping outside the thermal “comfort zone” could also have these major health implications.

Temperature can definitely impact the body’s functioning, says Hilary Hawkins, MD, a family medicine specialist with Orlando Health Physician Associates. “If it is too cold, our body will try to compensate and shiver to keep us warm, and work harder to keep our normal breathing and heart rate and body functions going,” she explains. “Similarly, when it becomes hot, we sweat to release that extra heat. Our hypothalamus has a very fine balance with which it functions; it is extremely efficient at regulating this on a routine basis.”

Hopefully experts will continue to experiment with innovative ways building temperature adjustments might impact broader health. For now, Hawkins said it would be difficult to replicate the study findings in real life. There are lots of variables that impact how the body responds to temperature throughout the day.

For instance, everyone’s “comfort zone” is a bit different, based on body type, sex and personal preference. Not everyone has direct control of every thermostat they encounter, or where they spend their waking hours. Also, people are moving in and out of different environments, constantly, in a way that isn’t very uniform to track.

That said, there are still a few easy ways to play into your body’s temperature and metabolic dynamics, which can help improve aspects of your health right now. Here’s Hawkins’ advice.

Turn the Thermostat Down at Night

At night, cool your room several degrees lower than your daily “comfortable” temp. “This will help signal to your body to slow down, as we get into a sleep mode and cool off,” says Hawkins. “This is also why a hot bath or hot shower before bed can ready you for sleep. As the heat evaporates and we cool down, we become sleepy and move into our night shift.” This will allow for a more restful sleep, so you wake up refreshed, ready to make healthy eating decisions, and prepared for activity!

Don’t Forget to Eat

Many people get busy at work, and don’t eat. However, this strategy isn’t doing your metabolism any favors. “Eating regular meals, rather than skipping your lunch, is an effective way to stay healthy during the workday,” Hawkins says. As the body breaks down food, your metabolism increases. “Therefore sitting still at your desk and not moving for eight hours without eating or drinking is certainly not a helpful healthy state,” she says. You’ll likely also feel lethargic afterward, and might make poor eating or exercise decisions when you leave the office.  

Fidget at Your Desk to Increase Metabolism

Most people don’t realize that moving, even a little bit, can keep your metabolism high—and thus, warm you up if your office temps are cool. “Do not sit in one place for more than an hour at a time,” says Hawkins. “Fidgeting more at the workplace can also help with caloric burn, as essentially that means one is constantly moving.” Even just tapping your foot, pacing during a phone call, or walking to another person’s desk to answer an email in person can help.

Likewise, you can “fidget” more while you’re at home, too. Hawkins says that if adjusting the temperature forces you to make more movements, just because you’re chilly, then go for it. “We need to move,” she explains. “Whatever it takes to get people out of the chair. That will certainly be the answer to more caloric burn and better overall health.”

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