In the UAE, it is not unusual to put on extra pounds in the summer. That's the exact opposite of what many expats are accustomed to.
The cool truth about summer weight gain
The hot weather is here in full force, leading many of us to blast the air conditioners in our homes, cars and offices. But studies suggest that air conditioning may be doing more than keeping us cool; it may be causing us to pack on the kilograms. The concept of summer weight gain is unusual to many expatriates. For them, it is a season to throw aside the winter clothes, head outdoors, feel the sand between their toes and make the most of the pleasant weather. A more active lifestyle usually leads to weight loss. But here in the UAE, all that gets turned upside down. The extreme summer temperatures force us indoors, where we create an artificial environment to help us keep our cool. It's a time to stay inside, close the windows and hunker down until more pleasant temperatures return.
As a result of this sedentary, indoor life, we're getting less exercise and eating more. Those who have lived in cooler climates will be familiar with the inevitable winter weight gain, but here, it's the summer bulge. Findings published in the International Journal of Obesity suggest that burning fewer calories and eating more may not be the only thing leading to summer weight gain. Air conditioning may also play a pivotal role. Researchers found that people in the US and UK keep their homes much cooler today in comparison to 30 years ago. At the same time, obesity rates have increased at staggering rates. In the southern US, where some of the highest obesity rates are observed, the percentage of homes with air conditioning has increased from 37 to 70 per cent in the past 30 years.
At the centre of the research is the thermoneutral zone - a range in which the body doesn't have to work to maintain a comfortable temperature. When the body is cold, it burns calories and excess fat to keep warm. When the body warms up, appetite tends to decrease in an attempt to cool down, so fewer calories are consumed. But when we keep an ambient temperature at a comfortable level, whether it's turning up the heat in winter or blasting the air conditioning in summer, our bodies don't have to work as hard to maintain a balance. Essentially, all the work is done for us. The bottom line is when we are more comfortable we tend to eat more and burn fewer calories.
So what's the best line of defence against summer weight gain? Don't put your exercise plans on hold. Continue to fit some physical activity into your day, even if it means staying indoors. That might mean taking a brisk walk around the mall, moving your workout to a gym or using the stairs instead of the lift or escalator. Try to maintain the same level of physical activity you did in the cooler months, especially if your eating habits haven't changed.
Ironically, all that cool air blowing through air-conditioning vents has many people reaching for comfort foods usually associated with cold weather. If you find you're spending more time indoors, use that opportunity to cook some healthy, wholesome meals instead of ordering takeaway. You will save unnecessary calories, fat and sodium in the process. And with plenty of fruits and vegetables in season, this is a great time to boost your intake of fresh foods.
Remember, it's only a few short months until the temperature begins to drop and we can all head back outdoors - and turn the air conditioners off.