How Hot Weather Might Be Helping to Make Us Fat
Have you ever looked outside and seen a blistering summer day and thought it is just too hot to exercise? New research suggests you aren’t alone.
Carried out by scientists at the University of Texas and published in the American Journal of Public Health, the new study found that counties in America that have hot, humid and rainy conditions are much more likely to have adults who are less physically active, and are more likely to be obese, than counties with more moderate weather. So what’s going on here?
It’s true that there are a number of other factors that have an impact on obesity rates, such as income, access to areas to exercise such as parks and access to nutritious foods. However, the researchers controlled for these factors and found that even after adjusting for them, it seems that hot, humid summers still seem to have an impact.
The researchers note that, while this weather connection might seem obvious, when they looked at other obvious things like what terrain was on people’s doorsteps and how it might facilitate exercise, there wasn’t a link. For instance, Coloradans as a whole tend to be active and have low rates of obesity. The researchers guessed that perhaps it was because they live in an area with plenty of hills and mountains which provide ideal opportunities for inexpensive but challenging exercise. Yet, that fact didn’t hold true in other states like West Virginia where obesity rates are higher and physical activity is much lower.
So what’s going on here? It appears to be common sense: when the weather is warmer, and particularly when it is humid, people feel more lethargic and don’t want to exercise. The research found that the Southeast of America in particular suffered from low exercise rates and higher obesity figures, which if this theory holds true could come down to the hot and humid summers. On the other side of that coin, the counties with the lowest obesity rates and highest number of people exercising tended to be in the mountains in the West, where cool and dry summers provide more accommodating weather for exercising.
So how does this knowledge help us? It’s important to say that this study isn’t comprehensive so we can’t draw too many conclusions. Yet, if we take this study as impetus to think about how we might get more people exercising, we can come up with some (again) common sense solutions. The researchers think that if further studies show there may be link, it might be that local governments and even state agencies could begin to factor weather-appropriate health advice into their calls for more exercise. Creating summer exercise programs that you can do either indoors or out of the severe heat is one solution. There’s also a lot that could be done in terms of town planning and management that might help the situation. For instance, providing plenty of shaded outdoor areas in parks and on the streets so that, in the summer, people can still run and bike without fearing the full glare of the sun.
It may also suggest that leisure centers and gyms might want to start opening earlier, or at least at cooler times because, while they may offer facilities that are air conditioned, people may be put off from exercising during the hottest parts of the day because they will have to actually get to the gym first, and that journey might be unpleasant.
“Living in Texas as I do, the results really resonated for me,” Paul von Hippel, an assistant professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and lead researcher on this project, is quoted as saying. “Around June or July here, it starts getting hard to think about going outside for a jog — or even a brisk walk — after work, which is close to the hottest part of the day. You have to come up with a strategy for staying active in the summer. Are you going to get out in the early morning, which is the coolest part of the day? Are you going to swim? Or are you going to do something indoors, like basketball or ice skating or just walking on a treadmill?”
Over to you! How do you stay active in the summer months? Have your say in the comments below.
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