WIKIMEDIA, MARTINSSOUPBOWLThe millions of Americans stooped over in agony after shoveling snow this season might find some comfort in a Cell Metabolism study published today (February 4), which shows that shivering elicits benefits similar to exercise. Researchers found that shivering in the cold releases a hormone in humans—irisin—that helps fat cells burn energy. “With shivering, we obtained a similar increase in irisin level as maximum exercise, or one hour of exercise, but the timing was much shorter and the amount of energy expenditure was lower than these two types of exercise,” Francesco Celi, the lead author of the study and an endocrinologist at Virginia Commonwealth University, told Live Science.
The Telegraph reported that volunteers who shivered in chilly temps for just 10 to 15 minutes produced the same amount of irisin as people would after an hour of moderate exercise. The hormone—along with another hormone released during shivering and exercise, FGF21—helps convert white fat cells to calorie-burning brown fat cells, the researchers showed. “From a clinical point of view, irisin and FGF21 represent a cold-stimulated hormone system, which was previously unknown, and may be harnessed in future obesity therapeutics through brown fat activation,” study coauthor Paul Lee from Sydney University in Australia, told The Telegraph.
Pumping up the irisin-generated brown fat activity could be a potential avenue for helping to treat obesity. “Perhaps lowering the thermostat during the winter months could help both the budget and metabolism,” Celi said in a press release.