Why Do Cold Temperatures Slow Down Your Metabolism?

Four adults with skis and snowboards walking and talking
A group of friends are walking at the ski slopes. (Image: Thomas Northcut/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

If you find yourself packing on the pounds during the winter months, you might think that the problem is the cold weather. But cold temperatures by themselves don't slow down the metabolism. Instead, feeling cold can be a symptom of a slow metabolism, and this is because of the thyroid's role in regulating metabolism. The metabolism does, however, tend to speed up in higher temperatures.

The Temperature-Metabolism Connection

When you are active, your body tends to warm up, making it look like heat is the result of a fast metabolism. When you're continually exposed to freezing temperatures, your metabolism may slow down to conserve energy and heat, but a brief period spent in cold temperatures, such as a walk in the snow, isn't sufficient to slow down your metabolism. If your endocrine system isn't functioning well, however, your core body temperature may drop, and with this drop can come a slow down in metabolism.

Correlations Between Metabolism and Weather

Gaining weight during the cold winter months is usually a simple matter of correlation, not the result of a slow metabolism. Rich, excessive food around the holidays can play a role in cold-weather weight gain. Similarly, if you usually exercise outdoors, you might slack off on your routine if the weather is too cold, or cut your routine short when cold temperatures become unbearable.

Low Body Temperature

A low body temperature can sometimes indicate hypothyroidism, which does affect metabolism. A variety of medical conditions can cause your thyroid to malfunction; symptoms of a thyroid problem include frequently feeling cold, depression, unexplained weight gain, weakness, brittle hair or nails, constant fatigue and paleness. Only your doctor can diagnose you with a slow metabolism caused by hypothyroidism, and he may prescribe medication, dietary changes or surgery to remedy the problem.

Speeding Up Metabolism

If you want to speed up your metabolism, focus on building muscle, which burns more calories than fat. Eating regular small meals -- including breakfast -- instead of one or two large meals can keep your body consistently nourished and help you avoid entering starvation mode, which slows the metabolism. Interval training, which incorporates brief bursts of intense exercise into an otherwise moderate workout, can also help boost your metabolism for several hours after your workout.

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