The popular health pursuit of winter bathing, which is known to trigger a sense of well-being, may also result in loss of weight.
That hypothesis is to be tested in a study at the Centre for Physical Activity at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen.
In the study, the first of its kind in the world, 30 clinically overweight men and women have volunteered to help find out whether the cold shock resultant from winter bathing increases energy consumption.
Researcher Susanna Søberg, who is part of the team conducting the study, said that the work aimed to show whether winter bathing can activate the body’s brown fat cells.
Unlike normal white fat, which stores calories, brown fat cells burn energy, producing heat.
“Brown fat can be thought of as a small factory inside the body. If you can switch it on, it will use sugar and fat from the blood stream, thereby breaking down white fat,” Søborg said to Ritzau.
Beginning at the end of this month, 15 of the volunteers in the study will winter bathe regularly, while the remaining 15 will act as a control group.
All participants will wear a heart monitor and keep a log of their daily activities.
The bathing group will winter bathe three times per week at the Helgoland public baths in Amager, south Copenhagen.
They will be required to jump into cold water three times and can choose to enter a sauna between dips, as is common practice for winter bathers.
Brown fat was discovered in the 1980s, but its potential for assisting weight loss was only recently demonstrated by scientists.
The research could bring about useful results in finding new ways to activate brown fat, which could in turn provide the basis for new treatments – not just in countries with a climate that enables winter bathing in cold temperatures.
“If we can find pointers in brown fat, perhaps it might be possible to develop a medical treatment for obesity,” Søberg said.