Climate. The effects of cold on the fat loss response to exercise have been studied extensively and have been reviewed by Professor Roy Shephard of Toronto University in Canada.9 Basically results show that repeated and prolonged moderate exercise in a cold environment creates a greater energy deficit than in a warm environment. Shephard’s group demonstrated this with Canadian soldiers on manoeuvres in the Arctic. The fat loss of these men was compared with that of soldiers in mainland Canada in the summer, whilst on an identical dietary and exercise regime.

Explanations for the extra effects of the cold include an altered sensitivity of catecholamine receptors, and increased thermogenesis through shivering. Endurance activity in the cold appears to have specific fat loss benefits, although this effect seems to be less well developed in men than in women. Exercising in the Arctic is obviously the extreme situation, but it probably carries some lessons for fat loss in extreme conditions. Exercise in the cold may give added advantages in therapy for obesity, provided vigorous exercise is not attempted with cold muscles.

Conversely, over-heating by rugging up with warm clothing while exercising, as is often done in an attempt to ‘sweat off fat, may be counter-productive for fat loss. The loss of sweat may result in some weight loss but much of it will be fluid loss.

The body maintains an optimal core temperature of around 37.5°C. In a hot environment, the body has to work to prevent its core temperature from rising. However, the human system for cooling (i.e. Sweating) is passive and costs little extra energy and there is also a natural decrease in energy use to allow dissipation of heat For this reason, techniques of over-heating (i.e. such as saunas and steam baths) are likely to have little long term effect on body mass other than a decrease in body weight through loss of water from sweating.

Myth-information. It is usually believed that heat treatments are better for fat loss than cold. However, it takes less energy for the body to passively cool itself than it does to maintain body heat. Theoretically then, a freezer would be a better fat loss treatment than a sauna bath.


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