Love the heat? Here’s why moving somewhere cold may help you live longer

COLOGNE, Germany — Florida is a popular retirement spot because of its warm temperatures and sizzling beaches. If you’re looking to live for many years after retirement, however, scientists recommend looking for a more frigid area up north. New research finds that moderately cold temperatures increase a person’s longevity and decrease susceptibility to age-related diseases. This is because the cold prevents proteins from clumping together.

The findings arose from using a non-vertebrate model organism, the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, and cultivated human cells. Both carried genes for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Huntington’s disease, two diseases featuring the accumulation of harmful and damaging protein deposits.

When German researchers exposed both models to cold, the low temperatures actively removed protein clumps and stopped the further build–up of protein clusters. More specifically, the scientists found the cold affected the activity of proteasomes, a cellular mechanism which removes damaged proteins from cells. With a moderate drop in temperature, the cold stimulated proteasome activity. One proteasome activator called PA28y/PSME3 helps with reducing the deficits caused by aging in both the nematode and human cells.

“Taken together, these results show how over the course of evolution, cold has preserved its influence on proteasome regulation – with therapeutic implications for aging and aging-associated diseases,” says study author David Vilchez, a professor of medicine at the University of Cologne in Germany, in a media release.

Image of cells in cold temperatures
Cold temperatures activate a cellular cleansing mechanism that breaks down defective protein aggregations: Expression of PSME3 in germline, neurons and gut of nematode. CREDIT: David Vilchez and Hyun Ju Lee

Aging is a risk factor for several neurodegenerative diseases involved in protein aggregation, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and ALS.

“We believe that these results may be applied to other age-related neurodegenerative diseases as well as to other animal species,” adds Vilchez.

So, what if you don’t live in frigid areas?

Another way scientists found to activate proteasome activity was by overexpressing the genes of the activator. Doing so removed disease-causing proteins even at a normal body temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

Previous research has linked moderate drops in temperature to positive health outcomes. For example, it is the cold that helps cold-blooded animals such as worms and fish live longer. Their body temperature changes based on the temperature of the environment. The current findings show humans can manipulate body temperature to produce similar effects.

Warm-blooded mammals live within a narrow range of their body temperature, no matter how hot or cold it is outside. However, when researchers shifted the nematode from its standard 68 degrees Fahrenheit to 59 degrees, the slight adjustment helped them live much longer. Lowering the body temperature of mice by 0.5 degrees also extends their lifespan.

In humans, scientists have observed a relationship between body temperature and longevity. The normal human temperature ranges between 97°F to 99°F. Falling below 95 degrees would trigger hypothermia. However, human body temperature can drop to as low as 96.8°F when sleeping. Another study showed that human body temperature has been steadily declining since the Industrial Revolution, a possible factor in the longer life expectancy humans have experienced over the past 160 years.

The study is published in the journal Nature Aging.

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About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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