“A man’s health can be judged by which he takes two at a time – pills or stairs.” – Joan Welsh
We live in times of such great convenience that survival only requires minimal amounts of physical activity.
No longer do we have to spend the greater part of our days hunting and foraging to provide for ourselves and our loved ones; we can simply order groceries with the click of a mouse.
And while society has advanced in its quest for ease and luxury, our bodies have atrophied from disuse.
We have gone from hunters and gatherers to agrarian farmers to industrial factory workers. But now we find ourselves sitting in small boxes, largely immobile, staring into computer monitors all day as Western society shifts toward a service-based economy.
Even the most health-conscious people I know actually live pretty sedentary lives. It is not uncommon for people to work out for an hour every day but spend the rest of their waking hours sitting; sitting at a desk working; sitting in their cars during their hour-long commute; sitting on their couch watching Netflix.
In addition to the sugar-laden Standard American Diet, this lack of physical activity has contributed to the sky-rocketing obesity epidemic in the United States. 70% of all US adults are considered overweight, with 37% considered obese.
What can we do to counteract this trend of physical inactivity? Simple:
Incorporating more movement throughout the day at a low level aerobic pace can lead to a boosted metabolism, increased physical fitness, and better health overall.
Going to the gym is important, don’t get me wrong. But it is only a small part of the totality of physical activity in a given day.
To understand why, let’s take a look at three different mechanisms through which the human body burns calories (also known as Total Daily Energy Expenditure):
Resting Metabolic Rate
Your resting metabolic rate is the rate at which your body burns energy when it is completely at rest. This is the energy required by your body for the most basic functions of being alive, such as heart function, brain function, respiration, blood circulation, etc. Each person has a different resting metabolic rate, affected by age, weight, gender, and body composition. This accounts for approximately 60% of total daily energy expenditure.
Thermic Effect of Food
Also known as dietary induced thermogenesis, this is the energy expenditure used to burn the food we eat: processing food for energy use and storage. This has a relatively small effect on daily caloric expenditure, accounting for approximately 10%.
Activity thermogenesis is the caloric expenditure of physical activity. Working out at the gym is only one part of that energy expenditure.
The other part consists of what is known as “non-exercise activity thermogenesis” (NEAT). This is simply the physical activity of daily living such as walking from place to place, doing laundry, carrying groceries, walking up a flight of stairs, cleaning your bedroom, etc. This can play a significant role in calories burned throughout the day. For most of us, the majority of activity thermogenesis comes from NEAT.
When it comes to boosting our metabolism, we have little control over resting metabolic rate and the thermic effect of food.
Resting metabolic rate is largely determined by immutable factors, such as age, height and gender.
RMR decreases as we get older due to reduced caloric needs for functions of living. Larger people require more caloric expenditure than smaller people and thus have a higher RMR.
The factors that increase RMR that we can control losing weight and improving our body composition. Losing body fat and increasing lean muscle mass can boost your resting metabolic rate, but not by a significant amount.
Contrary to popular belief, the thermic effect of food can not be altered to affect metabolism significantly.
The conventional wisdom is to eat many small meals a day to keep the thermic effect of food continual, thus leading to an increase in metabolism.
This is a flawed theory and a myth.
It is the total amount of calories that you consume that will determine the amount of energy burned during digestion. Therefore, consuming three 1,000 calorie meals is no different from consuming six 500 calorie meals.
Studies have also shown that meal frequency has no impact on increasing metabolic rate.
What can we control when it comes to increasing total daily energy expenditure? Activity thermogenesis. This means increasing our daily physical activity.
As we have already discussed, working out only represents a part of daily activity thermogenesis. The rest is encompassed by non-exercise activites. These activities are thus critical in maintaining body weight and preventing obesity.
Simple life activites like washing dishes, vacuuming the floor, and chasing your toddler around can burn an extra 1,500 – 2,400 calories per day!
Have you found yourself becoming too sedentary? Do you sit for long periods even though you know it is not good for your health? Your body was designed to move. Burning calories is something your body is naturally good at.
How can we add more of this ever so important Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis into our lives?
Below is a list of 15 activites in which you can partake to incorporate more movement at a low-level aerobic pace throughout the day every day.
- Park father away from the building and walk.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator (if you’re feeling really energetic, take two steps at a time.)
- Set a timer on your phone every 20-30 minutes at work to remind yourself to get up and walk around (invest in a treadmill desk if possible.)
- Schedule walking meetings at work and walk during your lunch time.
- Pace while you are talking on the phone.
- Walk your dog.
- Sit on a stability ball while you are working or watching TV.
- If you’re watching TV for long periods, get up and do some jumping jacks or pushups during the commercials.
- Ride a bike instead of driving.
- Clean your house – put a little extra physical effort into it.
- Wash your car in your driveway instead of taking it to a car wash.
- Carry your groceries in a basket instead of pushing a cart.
- If you’re a gamer, use a console like Xbox Kinect to incorporate more movement.
- Outside chores – mow the lawn, rake the leaves, chop wood, paint the fence, etc.
- Stopping at Dunkin? Skip the drive-thru and walk into the store.
These activities may seem simple, but they are extremely effective. Even picking just a few of those will add up to some serious energy burned throughout the day.
In order to be optimally healthy, we must incorporate more movement throughout the day.
Don’t become another victim of our sedentary culture. Do not choose the easy the way.
What will you do today to incorporate more movement in your life?