Maintaining a healthy body weight is a simple matter of mathematics. If your energy intake is higher than your energy output, you’ll gain weight, and if you use more energy than you eat, you’ll lose weight.
Energy in = Energy Out
As simple as that!
Pffft – yeah, right!
Our bodies are burning energy even when we are doing nothing, and because we have not mastered the art of photosynthesis, that energy must come from food. If you eat more food and hence consume more energy than you need, you will store the excess as fatty tissue. It’s not rocket science, even if it is maths!
This not-so-tricky maths gets in the way of things! As is the case with most people, I like eating! I’d like to be able to eat more and maintain a healthy body weight. To do this, I need to use more energy.
Is there a way I can increase my energy expenditure without noticing it?
Our energy use is divided into three components:
- Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR. This is the energy we use merely being alive. It is the amount of energy we use when we are at rest, after just waking up and with an empty belly. It accounts for around 60% of the energy sedentary people use each day. BMR is influenced by gender, age, and body mass. Essentially the bigger you are the more energy you need to keep your body idling. The older you get, the less energy you use. (So if your a little old(er) lady like me you’re not burning up much!)
- Thermic Effect of Food or TEF is the extra energy we need to digest and absorb our food. It takes energy to break down the food in our digestive system and get it into our bloodstream. TEF is a bit like a service fee. The energy in our food needs to be converted into the type of energy our body can use, and this comes at a cost. It turns out that protein needs more energy to be converted into usable energy. TEF accounts for around 10 – 15% of our average daily energy expenditure.
- Activity Thermogenesis (AT) is the energy used up in moving around and is further broken into two categories.
- Exercise-related activity thermogenesis is the energy we use in deliberate exercise such as going to the gym, running, lifting weights, etc.
- Non-exercise activity thermogenesis or NEAT is the incidental energy we use in walking around, picking up the kettle, sitting, standing, talking, shopping, cooking, doing the housework. The stuff we usually don’t change into active wear for!
We have the power to control activity thermogenesis. Since it makes up between 25 – 30% of the energy a sedentary person uses, it is the pathway to tipping the balance in favour of weight loss or gain.
Let’s pause for a little more maths.
- Every day has 24 hours.
- Let’s say you sleep for 8 of those hours where you are running on your BMR.
- That leaves 16 hours for you to burn up more energy.
- You spend one of your 16 waking hours at the gym (or running/swimming/whatever) and the other 15 hours doing the rest of life.
- That means only 6% of the time is used for exercise activity thermogenesis! For most people living ordinary urban lives, we sit on our butts for most of the other 15 hours! That means for 94% of our waking hours, we are using low levels of energy.
Can you increase the amount of energy you burn in those other 15 hours?
The solution is self-evident! You have to increase the amount of energy you expend in all activities! Be more active and less sedentary! Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy!
In real life…not as easy as it sounds.
Life is busy. You can’t spend 5 hours at the gym every day. You have to go to work. You have to get to work, you have to look after your family. You have to DO life. You may not have time to increase your exercise-related activity, but you can increase the amount of energy you expend in non-exercise related activities?
How do you increase NEAT-ness in your life?
Here are a few suggestions. (some more sensible than others!)
- Fidget! Fidgeting wastes heaps of energy! Be careful you don’t annoy too many people though.
- Don’t sit when you can stand. If you work in an office, get a standing desk.
- Don’t stand still if you can fidget or move from side to side or jiggle around on the spot.
- Get your smart gadgets to buzz you if you are sitting still for too long.
- Walk to the next office to talk to someone rather than ring or email them.
- Ditch the remote control. Tape the remote to the TV, so you have to get up to change channels etc.
- Don’t sit in front of the telly and do nothing. If you’re going to watch telly – do something! Lie on the floor & do yoga stretches, get some hand weights or resistance bands and do a few (hundred) biceps curls while you’re bingeing on the newest must-watch show. Alternate arms with legs and do some squats, lunges, hopping, hula hooping, etc.
- Don’t drive when you can walk or cycle. Pick a minimum distance and walk it. For instance, only drive if your destination is more than 3 km away.
- If you do have to drive, there are ways to do a sneaky car workout! It might not use much extra energy, but it’s better than nothing!
- Carry heavy things. Carry heavy things further.
- Park the car further away from the entrance when you go to the shops
- Get off the bus a stop earlier.
- Do 50 quick squats/lunges/calf raises while you’re brushing your teeth.
- Crank up the tunes while you’re doing the housework and dance like no-one is watching. If you’re doing the housework, probably nobody is watching! Check out these tips for exercises while cleaning. (some are a bit intense!)
- Play outdoors with your children/spouse/friends
- Take active holidays.
- Go for a hike rather than the movies.
- Choose more active leisure pursuits. Play tennis, not trivia. Go bowling.
- Choose a more active job! A labourer is going to use a lot more energy than an accountant!
- Wear fewer clothes and live in a colder climate! If you need to keep yourself warm, you’ll expend more energy.
The bottom line is, just move MORE and move more often.
Just for the record, sitting is NOT the new smoking. Research shows that the increase in mortality brought about by an excessively sedentary life is around 10%. The increase in mortality due to smoking is approximately 80%. So while both are bad for you, sitting is healthy compared to smoking!