In past issues of the Juvenon Health Journal we’ve discussed the importance of regular exercise for health, but now recent research reveals that the best way to manage weight may not include daily gym visits.
That’s right; researchers have taken a long hard look at the ramifications of a sedentary lifestyle and concluded that your favorite chair could be your worse enemy. The term NEAT – an acronym for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis – was coined by Dr. James Levine, a Mayo Clinic obesity researcher. NEAT is the energy expended or calories burned for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating, or sports-like exercise. These activities range from gardening and housework to fidgeting, puttering and basically standing instead of sitting as much as possible.
This research underscores an irrefutable truth; human beings are designed to move. Think of your idle body as a computer. When you are busy tapping away on the keyboard, your internal hard drive is humming along. But when you stop movement, your “computer” goes into power-conservation mode.
Conversely, consistent activity throughout the day triggers your metabolism to work effectively. Researchers like Levine surmise that when you are idle for an hour or more, your blood sugar and blood fats elevate.
Motion-sensing underwear reveals interesting results
Compelling data indicates that an hour at the gym does not make up for 12 hours sitting idle. Dr. Levine’s 2006 study on NEAT actually used motion-sensing underwear to track every step and fidget of 20 non-exercisers (half were obese, half were not). All of the participants were self-proclaimed “couch potatoes” who didn’t engage in any type of formal exercise before or during the test.
After 10 days, researchers found that the obese subjects were seated an average of 164 minutes longer each day than the lean subjects. Both lean and obese subjects spent about the same amount of time lying down. Additionally, total body movement was negatively linked with fat mass. That is to say, if obese participants had the same basic time sitting, standing and lying as the lean participants, they would have burned an extra 269 to 477 calories a day… or about one cheeseburger.
These results led researchers to pose another question: Do obese people sit more and move less just because they are obese? To explore this idea, the researchers recruited seven of the original 10 obese subjects to participate in a supervised 8-week weight loss program. Meanwhile, nine of the original 10 lean people, plus one more lean volunteer, underwent a supervised program dedicated to gaining weight. After two months, the obese subjects lost an average of 17.6 pounds and the lean participants gained an average of 8.8 pounds. Then they went back to the scientific drawing board and embarked on 10 more days of activity monitoring.
Interestingly, the results stayed about the same with both groups maintaining the same amount of daily movement as before. Researches surmised that some people inherently move less and perform less NEAT each day than others. Does this explain why some people are hopelessly predestined to obesity? NEAT proponents say yes. However, simply by being aware that some people are naturally less inclined to move a lot during the day (NEAT), health care professionals can cajole and urge patients to add even a few steps a day to burn additional calories.
Treadmill desks to the rescue!
In 2012, the Levine team at the Mayo Clinic embarked on another trial regarding the notion of sedentariness and its association with weight gain and obesity. Their hypothesis was that a 1-year intervention with a treadmill desk would be associated with an increase in employee daily physical activity. A treadmill desk combines a standing desk with a treadmill that allows employees to work while walking at low speed.
Treadmills were given to 36 employees (25 women, 11 men) with sedentary jobs. Daily physical activity (using accelerometers), work performance, body composition, and blood variables were measured at baseline and then again 6 and 12 months after the treadmills were implemented. Access to the treadmill desks was associated with increases in daily physical activity and significant decreases in daily sedentary time. Average weight loss for the group was 1.4 +/- 3.3 kg and was greatest in those who were obese. Also of note is that the use of the treadmill desks did not adversely affect work performance.
The take-home message here is that access to treadmill desks may improve the health of office workers without affecting work performance. It’s an interesting weapon for battling the sedentary demise of our post-Industrial Revolution society.
Shun the chair
Whether it’s on an office treadmill or simply walking around during a business call, the idea is to shun your chair as much as possible. Being active turns on the genes that control fats in the blood. It also increases metabolic rate. Additionally, you can double or even triple your metabolic rate by talking or emailing while you are walking around. Simply standing can increase your metabolic rate, as well.
Levine’s study, like any experiment, has caveats. However, this and other studies are an exciting step in the right direction and represent a re-thinking of the value of daily movement and how it can ameliorate weight gain with just a few extra paces a day. It’s a NEAT idea, to be sure.
In the coming months, the Juvenon Health Journal will continue to feature research that will help you stay informed and healthy. By offering effective, all-natural supplements and health news you can use, Juvenon provides an essential toolkit to battle aging enemies.
Every Twitch and Fidget Counts
Looking for ideas to up your NEAT tally? Consider these calorie burners:
- At work, move the wastebasket to the other side of the office. You’ll have to get up out of your seat to toss your apple core.
- Just say no to elevators.
- Get up and walk around while chatting on the telephone.
- Use a more distant restroom so you have to walk a longer distance.
- Instead of using the TV remote, get up and go to the TV every time you need to change the channel.
- Walk to someone’s office instead of calling them.
- If you find yourself sitting for long periods of time, set a timer for every hour as a reminder to get up and walk around or to do a few stretches.
- Try standing when you would normally sit or alternate the two.
- Instead of circling around the parking lot looking for the closest spot, park further away from the entrance.