Shivering from the winter storm that struck today? Weary to work out because you will have to endure negative temperatures and slick icy roads just to get to the gym? Here’s a comforting thought for you: new research suggests that shivering, your body’s way of trying to stay warm, releases a promising hormone called irisin that appears to be connected to some health benefits of exercise.
So while you were freezing scraping the ice off your windshield today trying to get to work, perhaps think of your chattering teeth and quivering limps as a quick workout. Although you should be weary not to stay cold too long, we hear hypothermia and frostbite aren’t the most favorable conditions to endure.
A new study from scientists at Sydney University found that placing volunteers in temperatures of less than 59F for around 10-15 minutes caused hormonal changes equivalent to that of an hour of moderate exercise per Common Wealth. These hormonal changes have been linked to the creation of brown fat, a type of fat that incidentally burns up energy.
According to a press release from The Telegraph — with headline Shivering Can Help You Stay Slim – they write:
According to new research into the mechanisms involved, shivering releases a hormone that stimulates fat tissue to produce heat so that the body can maintain its core temperature. This hormone, irisin, is also produced by muscle during exercise. The findings, which are published in the February 4 issue of the Cell Press journal Cell Metabolism, demonstrates that the act of shivering produces calorie-burning brown fat and improves metabolism.
Through experiments conducted in healthy volunteers, Dr. Francesco S. Celi of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and his colleagues found that the irisin, produced when the body shivers, is released in proportion to shivering intensity. Furthermore, the amount of irisin secreted as a result of shivering is of similar magnitude to that of exercise-stimulated secretion. The team also found that when human fat cells in the laboratory were treated with FNDC5, a precursor of irisin, the cells burned more energy and released more heat.
The results suggest that exercise-induced production of irisin could have evolved from a similar mechanism that occurs following shivering-related muscle contractions in order to burn calories and generate heat. “This research may reveal why exercise increases secretion of a hormone that makes the body maintain its internal temperature,” said Dr. Celi, who is currently at Virginia Commonwealth University. This may help explain why exercise increases secretion of a hormone that, paradoxically, makes the body feel hotter.
The findings also suggest that exploiting the muscle-fat crosstalk that is mediated by irisin may represent a new strategy to treat or prevent obesity. The results may even help people embrace feeling cold. “Perhaps lowering the thermostat during the winter months could help both the budget and metabolism,” said Dr. Celi.