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Key Takeaways

  • Cold temperatures increase lifespan by 10-20% in animal studies
  • The life-extending effect of cold environments is caused by an activation of specific longevity genes
  • This relationship is an example of hormesis—paradoxical adaptation in which an organism lives longer in unfavorable life conditions

Actions to Consider

  • A cold environment could promote your longevity. Embrace cold showers, try a Cryotherapy chamber, go for a walk in brisk weather, or trade the beach for a ski trip!
  • Not a fan of the cold but love something spicy? Surprisingly, the life-extending gene that’s activated by cold temperatures is also activated by eating wasabi (Japanese horseradish)
  • In fact, any uncomfortable environment or event could promote lifespan as well, as long as it’s not too harsh on the body. Occasional fasting and regular physical exercise are the most common examples.

Embrace the occasional shiver, live longer

Several studies have reported that cold temperatures increase lifespan.

Reportedly, cold environments activate specific genes that induce a slower rate of aging in the owner. This finding is one more piece of evidence refuting the rate-of-living theory, as this life-extending effect is seen despite the increase in metabolic rate.

What is the rate-of-living theory?

In the early 20th century, German physiologist Max Rubner created the rate-of-living theory. According to this idea, animals with the fastest metabolism have the shortest lifespans. That’s how Rubner explained that large animals usually outlive smaller ones.

The rate-of-living theory has been discredited time and again by scientific authorities. Now, the fact that cold temperatures promote longevity is one more argument against this theory. After all, one’s metabolism speeds up in the cold to preserve body temperature. So, a faster metabolism leads to longevity? Actually, the core of the issue has little to do with metabolism at all.

The cold truth: how lower temperatures promote longevity

Animal studies reported that laboratory rats who were put in cold water for four hours per day lived 10% longer than other rats. Similarly, lab worms who experienced repeated heat shocks lived 10 to 20% longer than unaffected worms.

Isn’t this effect an example of the rate-of-living theory? Could this boost in longevity be  caused by the decrease of the animals’ metabolism?

Not at all. Studies have confirmed that the life-extending effect of cold temperatures has nothing to do with metabolism directly, but is orchestrated by specific anti-aging genes that are activated by cold. In worms, for example, some of those genes are the DAF-16 and TRPA-1. The latter gene has a homolog in mammals, and it has similar functions.

Evolution always wins

The evolutionary logic behind the boost in longevity in response to tough conditions like cold, hunger, or physical strain, is pretty simple. To ensure the existence of a species, hardships in life should enhance the lifespan of the surviving animals to compensate for possible losses  in the population resulting from these hardships. 

Conclusion

Embracing cold temperatures is one of the most accessible ways of supporting longevity. 

Thanks to the activation of specific genes due to the cold, the rate of aging slows down while  the metabolism speeds up. A similar effect is seen under many other unfavorable circumstances and various hardships in life, including hunger and physical exercise.

The moral of the story is simple: don’t be afraid to endure periodic discomfort. Your health may make up for it with a boost in lifespan!

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