Socializing might help you slim down

By Shayna Brouker • Published: December 5th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

’Tis the season for socializing with friends, family and co-workers. Whether it’s a family dinner, a Secret Santa gift exchange at the office or a cookie-baking party with friends, the month of December certainly keeps our social calendars stacked. While winter is traditionally linked with weight gain, all that partying might actually do your waistline a favor, as long as you keep the munching to a minimum.

New research from the Ohio State University suggests socializing might help you slim down. A study found that when mice were placed in social environments with 15 to 20 other mice, they were able to convert white fat into calorie-burning brown fat. They also gained less weight when fed a high-fat diet.

Interacting with others and competing for food and mates — much like at a party — can invigorate the sympathetic nervous system and switch white fat to brown.

Yes, there is more than one kind of fat, and they are different colors. Brown fat has mitochondria that burn calories instead of storing them, unlike the white fat that tends to settle on your stomach after a few too many sugar cookies.

While the study has yet to be replicated in humans, there is evidence that a higher proportion of brown fat has been associated with a leaner physique in people. We are born with a certain amount of brown fat that lessens with age, but there are some things we can do to help increase it. Past research published in the journal Obesity Reviews found that cold temperatures can activate brown fat first and burn more calories.

So at the next holiday party you host — or attend — don’t touch the thermostat and let the winter weather in. Bask in the glow of good times with friends. After all, who knows, you might just burn off that last pig-in-a-blanket.