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Mention the words body fat and these come to mind –bad, unsightly, unwanted, unhealthy, etc. But not all kinds of fat are bad. Much like “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol, there is “good” fat and “bad” fat.

We need fat in our bodies because it serves two main purposes – to store excess calories (energy) for future use (when we we’re hungry or when it’s cold) and to release hormones that control metabolism. Nowadays, there’s a lot of excitement about a certain kind of “good” body fat – brown fat – that experts say could aid in weight loss.

Brown Fat

Research on Brown Fat

Interest in brown fat started in 2009 when experts at the Joslin Diabetes Center analyzed brown fat deposits from PET/CT scans of 1,972 patients over a period of three years. They found that the amount of brown fat depends on factors such as age, glucose levels and level of obesity. As expected, younger patients had greater levels of brown fat and the brown fat was activated during cold weather. Surprisingly, thin adult patients had more levels of brown fat than those who were on the obese side and with high glucose levels.

Their research showed that “good” fat, previously believed to be present only in babies and children, is still present in adult humans, particularly those who are lean and with normal sugar levels.

For the longest time, scientists thought that by adulthood, most of the brown fat in our bodies is gone. On the contrary, this study proves that it is not only present in adults; it is also metabolically active. What does this mean? It means that the more brown fat your body has; the more calories it will consume each day.

Exercise and Brown Fat

In follow-up studies of mice and humans in 2013, researchers at the same facility  that “bad” fat can be trained to be “good” fat through exercise. One study showed that fat “browning” happened after the mice ran on an exercise wheel for 11 days. On the part of the men, the “browning” of their subcutaneous white fat came after 12 weeks of consistent training on an exercise bike.

“It’s clear that when fat gets trained, it becomes browner and more metabolically active,” said Kristin Stanford, Ph.D., a member of the research team at Joslin Diabetes Center. Exercise not only prevents muscle loss, it also increases levels of brown fat in the body.

The Lancet, the world’s number one medical journal, published a Taiwanese study in 2012, which suggests that exercising, even for just 15 minutes a day, could extend life expectancy by three years.

So, if you want more brown fat, a leaner body and more birthdays, get moving! You may not see a significant change in your weight, but you are definitely improving your overall health.