As obesity in both children and adults continues to be a serious personal and public health issue, the need to recognize all contributing factors becomes even more important. Inactive lifestyle and low levels of structured exercise, coupled with excessive food intake, are commonalities observed among a majority of overweight/obese individuals. Over the last 15 years or so, an innovative field of study - termed inactivity physiology - has developed which looks how activities of daily living, called non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) impact on weight gain and obesity. NEAT is the energy expenditure that occurs during daily activities that are not considered planned exercise, including standing, walking, talking, and fidgeting.
This body of literature grew from the observation that people who fidget and move around a lot in their everyday lives – individuals who “can’t seem to sit still” – tend to not be overweight. In a 2005 study, researchers recruited 20 healthy volunteers who had one very similar description of their planned physical activity – they did none. They were self-proclaimed “couch potatoes”. Of the 20 volunteers, 10 were classified as lean on the Body Mass Index scale, and 10 were classified as mildly obese. The authors selected mildly obese subjects because this group is less likely to have medical impediments and orthopaedic issues than the morbidly obese. Each individual wore an inclinometer and triaxial accelerometer, sensitive monitoring devices that capture data on body position through all planes of movement 120 times per minute. With this equipment, the authors were able to capture data every half-second for 10 days, leading to an incredible final collection of 25 million data points on movement and posture for each subject after the 10-day experiment was completed. The results were striking: the obese subjects were seated for 164 minutes longer each day than the lean subjects. In addition, the lean participants were upright for 152 minutes longer per day than the obese subjects. Sleep times between the groups did not vary at all. In essence, the energy expenditure generated by the lean individuals’ extra movement averaged 352 calories per day, which is equivalent to approximately 36.5 pounds per year.
Something to consider is that research has shown that our weight tends to be homostatically inclined - meaning, our bodies find ingenious ways to maintain the same amount of body fat. One way this manifests is that on days that we do a workout, we may move around less throughout the rest of the day. Take care to not let this happen.
Kravitz, L. A NEAT "new" strategy for weight control. IDEA Fitness Journal, April 2006.
Levine, LA et al. (2005). Interindividual variation in posture allocation: Possible role in human obesity. Science, 307(28), 584-86.
Exercise Specialist Recommendations:
- Take the stairs, no matter what.
- If you must take an escalator, walk up the escalator stairs instead of standing still.
- Get an adjustable desk that can become a standing desk.
- Walk everywhere you can.
- Bike everywhere you can.
- Take an evening stroll after dinner.
- Park your car in the far reaches of parking lots.
- Take frequent breaks from computer time to use the washroom, make tea, or find something you need.
- Walk around while talking on the phone.
- Clean up your house often!
- Get a dog or borrow a friend's dog
- Wear comfortable shoes to work that do not inhibit movement.
- Set your phone to remind you to stand up and stretch every half hour.
The possibilities are endless. Keep moving!