It has been postulated that increased energy expenditure results in shortened survival. To test this "rate-of-living theory" we examined the effect of raising energy expenditure by means of cold exposure on the longevity of rats. Male 6-mo-old SPF Long-Evans rats were gradually accustomed to immersion in cool water (23 degrees C). After 3 mo they were standing in the cool water for 4 h/day, 5 days/wk. They were maintained on this program until age 32 mo. The cold exposure resulted in a 44% increase in food intake (P less than 0.001). Despite their greater food intake, the cold-exposed rats' body weights were significantly lower than those of control animals from age 11 to 32 mo. The average age at death of the cold-exposed rats was 968 +/- 141 days compared with 923 +/- 159 days for the controls. The cold exposure appeared to protect against neoplasia, particularly sarcomas; only 24% of the necropsied cold-exposed rats had malignancies compared with 57% for the controls. The results of this study provide no support for the concept that increased energy expenditure decreases longevity.