There is some evidence indicating that exposure to cold temperatures can enhance the body's fat-burning capabilities. This isn't actually a new concept. In some Eastern European cultures jumping into icy rivers and rubbing snow on the body to improve circulation and overall health have been common practices for generations. Even Charles Atlas—the original bodybuilding guru—believed that exposure to cold water when taking a shower could facilitate the burning of fat. Charles recommended that men finish off their showers with a brisk spray of cold water to stimulate and strengthen the nervous system. A 2003 study provides some support to this idea. In this study, researchers reviewed the seasonal variation of testosterone levels and hip ratio among groups of men.
Results of this research project indicated that among the participants, the lowest levels of testosterone occurred during the summer months with the levels peaking during the colder months. Similarly, the men's waist to hip ratio exhibited a similar parallel, with the highest values occurring during the warmest months and the lowest values occurring during the coldest months. The variation in hormone levels was significant, with a difference as high as 31% being noted among some of the participants.
It is believed that cold temperatures have a positive impact on fat loss because it causes the body to increase the expenditure of energy, therefore increasing body heat. 'Uncoupling proteins' mediate the energy production by essentially inducing a waste of energy in the form of heat. This mediation process is referred to as a thermogenic action, which is defined as an increase in heat generated by metabolic stimulation. In particular, this thermogenic action reduces cellular levels of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), ultimately stimulating an increase in cellular energy production to make up for the wasted energy. This happens because a primary function of ATP is to transport chemical energy within cells for metabolism.
By simulating a cold weather response you could use this uncoupling-protein activity to your advantage to encourage the body to ramp up the use of excess body fat as an energy source. One of the ways you could accomplish this is by taking cold showers—it turns out that maybe Charles Atlas was on to something after all. To achieve the optimal impact the best strategy is to alternate the temperature of the water between warm and cold. Just before you step out of the shower you should finish with a nice cold rinse. According to Charles Atlas, you should focus on the cold water on the front of your body—the solar plexus and genital area in particular—because of the significant concentrations of nerve endings located in these areas of the body.
Short-term exposure to cold temperatures is the key to success for this strategy however, so don't pack your bags and head for the North Pole just yet. Given the body's remarkable ability to continuously adapt to dynamic situations, it's not surprising that repeated, prolonged exposure to cold temperatures minimizes the fat-burning capacity of the uncoupling-protein activity. Continued long-term exposure to colder temperatures shifts the body into survival mode. In this state the hormones signal the body to store fat both to keep the body warm and to use as an energy source. That's why people indigenous to colder climates—like the Inuits and Eskimos—tend to be rounder, with higher body fat percentages than people who are native to warmer climates.
The persistent, long-term exposure to colder temperatures that comes from living in a cold climate motivates the body to constantly mobilize fatty acids as fuel for both energy and heat. This tends to increase the amount of visceral fat that the body maintains. Interestingly, though populations indigenous to cold climates tend to have low levels of heart disease in their native environment, switching to a 'western diet' causes a significant spike in these figures.
Before you try jumping into a cold shower or immersing yourself in an ice cold lake in an effort to burn more fat, you need to know that you are in good health. Sudden exposure to cold water may not be right for everyone. Unexpected temperature changes can provoke a strong neural response in the body. If you potentially have a health or medical condition such as heart disease or something similar, you should consult with a doctor or medical practitioner before utilizing this strategy.
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