A new study shows that socially engaging environments full of friendships and stress can ward off obesity and help lose weight by transforming energy-storing fat into energy-burning fat.
Researchers from Ohio State University used mice to study the effects a socially and physically engaging environment has on weight loss and obesity. The findings, published in Cell Metabolism, found that mice in an enriched environment with friends and stress expend more energy and lose weight even while they eat.
I'm still amazed at the degree of fat loss that occurs, co-author Matthew During said. The amount that comes off is far more than you would get with a treadmill.
The enriched environment includes large groups of 15 to 20 mice with an endless supply of toys, wheels and mazes to share. The mice in the enriched environment lost more weight compared to those in another group considered couch potatoes, without playmates or toys.
After four weeks in the enriched environment, the animals' abdominal fat decreased by fifty percent, co-author of the study Lei Cao said.
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Cao said the more complex environment, filled with stress, is actually proactive in weight loss, as the mice had to deal with each other in a complex environment.
We often think of stress as a negative thing, but some kinds of stress can be good for your health, Cao said.
So how exactly did a socially engaging environment ward off obesity in mice?
The study proved that a socially engaging environment can turn white fat, which is stored in the body, into brown fat, which is used to generate heat and burned off. While brown fat is typically only created with exposure to cold, the study showed that being social in an environment is a more effective way to naturally transform fat and inevitably burn it off to lose weight.
It's usually hard to induce the switch from white to brown fat, During said. It takes months of cold - you really have to push - and it doesn't induce brown fat to the same degree as what on the surface appears to be a relatively mild change in physical and social environments.
By increasing social engagement amongst mice, and in turn friendships and stress, obesity was not a factor as mice lost weight throughout the process.
It's not just a sedentary lifestyle and high calorie foods, but an increasing lack of social engagement, During said, urging people to reduce social media usage and instead increase their social interactions.