Here at Modern Health and Fitness, we bet you’ve read loads of articles with a title similar to this one. They might involve special pills, only drinking water, chanting in the bath…but here’s one that’s actually based in science – now there’s revolutionary thought!
Dr James Levine is a professor of medicine, hormone specialist and nutritionalist, as well as a research leader at the Mayo Clinic. He and his team have discovered the secret that divides the naturally slim from the overweight. We’re going to look at this secret (that was published in the professional journal Science in January 2005) in this article.
The Mayo Clinic researchers have special underwear. That’s right, you read correctly – special underwear. To be more precise they have designed special underwear that measures activity in their research subjects. And it’s this activity that’s the secret.
Dr Levine’s team has looked at the activity levels of normal weight people and those who were overweight and found that those move more are slimmer. OK, that’s not really news, but they’re not slimmer because they spend a lot of time at the gym. It’s the small activities that slim people do that burn the calories. Levine says these are things like your “occupation, leisure, sitting, standing, walking, toe-tapping, guitar playing, dancing and shopping.” He’s called the energy they burn ‘NEAT’ – non-exercise activity thermogenesis.
This non-exercise activity can account for a big proportion of the calories slimmer people burn in a day. For example, standing takes more energy than sitting, walking, even slowly, uses twice the energy of sitting down. This means that an active person can burn up to 50% more calories than a sedentary person.
The down side of the NEATs theory is that it seems our natural desire to move about is
genetically programmed. However before you stop reading and blame your genes, Dr Levine is keen to point out that there’s no reason that people can’t learn and get in the habit of creating non exercise thermogenesis: NEAT.
He cites the example of one of his patients who was very obese and found it difficult to even get out of her wheelchair. In working with her, they set the goal of simply standing up out of the chair 3 times a day. Then to walk for 15 seconds at time, building up to 2 minutes of walking.
These were major milestones for the lady but she managed them.
So, how can you add some more NEAT to your day? Here are some ideas to boost your inner couch potato, using time you already have and no special kit:
- Think about your day and what you do. What can you do more of that uses energy and do less of that’s very sedentary?
- How many times a day do you boil the kettle, make toast or use the microwave? Could you do some gentle ballet dancer plies each time – stand about 2’ from a chair or counter and rest your hands on the chair/counter. Set your feet about 1’ apart and, keeping your back straight and butt pointing down, gently bend your knees. Then push back up through the thigh muscles. Repeat until the toast pops/microwave pings.
- Alternatively just dance round the room.
- Do you put clothes/other items in a pile at the top or bottom of the stairs, ready to take all together? Why not go up and down with each item as you need to, instead of creating the pile.
- Take a walk at lunch time.
- Park further from the building so that you have to walk further
- Get off the bus a stop further away from your destination.
- During the ad breaks, get up and move about – even just once up and down the stairs can do the trick.
- Take dance classes.
- If you’re standing at the photocopier or in line at the post office, gently rise up onto your tiptoes and go gently back down. Repeat until you get to the front of the line or the job is done. You’ll feel it in the calf muscles and have lovely shapely legs.
- Take yoga classes.
- Fire your cleaner. Put on your iPod with some up beat music and get cleaning with gusto.
- Play with the kids in the park; games like Twister are great for rainy days.
- Take your phone calls standing up and move about as you listen/talk.
It can take some commitment to wake your NEATs and beat the couch potato, but it’s important to remember that activity should be about more than being healthy, preventing diabetes, heart disease, cancers etc: it should be fun!