By Erica Moe | Get Fit
Are you scratching your head, yet? If not, you should.
You may just think that calories are those pesky things that sneak into your closet at night to sew your clothes together more tightly. However, a calorie is simply a unit of energy. When we consume calories, they stay with us until we use them. Imagine how much stored up energy you are carrying with you right now.
Where do calories go?
Your body has three ways to use that energy. We use 60 percent of our calories at rest while sleeping or sitting. Consider this your metabolism. Digesting food uses 10 to 15 percent of our calories, which is a good reason to eat more frequent, but smaller, meals. The rest of the calories, anywhere from 15 to 50 percent, get used during physical activity — exercise and non-exercise activity. Non-exercise activity? Yes. And focusing on non-exercise activity is a strategy that is not only burning calories, but also saving lives.
In one study, participants were overfed by 1,000 calories (about two Big Macs) a day for eight weeks. With exercise held constant, the unsurprising results showed that the participants gained weight — 3 to 6 pounds of it. When overfed, some individuals naturally started to burn more calories through activities of daily living, postural changes and even fidgeting. These movements are all considered to be a part of Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT). This increase appears to be at least partly responsible for up to 50 percent of the difference in weight gain. People, who tap their feet, prefer standing to sitting and generally move around a lot burn up to 350 more calories a day then those who sit still. That can add up to nearly 37 pounds per year.
How many hours do you sit during your typical day? Don’t be surprised if the total time sitting is in the double digits. You sit to eat, drive, work, meet friends, watch TV, surf the web and so much more.
How does this work?
NEAT is directly correlated with calorie intake. As calorie intake increases, NEAT increases. As calorie intake decreases, perhaps during a diet, NEAT decreases. NEAT is a factor of both environment and genetics. Regardless of your genetics, you can change your environment and your behaviors in that environment.
Ideas to increase your NEAT
One study showed that those who manually washed dishes, walked to work and climbed the stairs burned an extra 120 calories per day over those who used a dishwasher, drove and took the elevator. That adds up to 12 pounds of fat per year! Other ideas:
- Stand at your desk or have a standing meeting.
- Pace while you talk on your cellphone or watch your kids at athletic practice.
- Take a walk break instead of a coffee break.
Just because you sit does not mean you have to sit. But if you do sit, be sure to move other parts of your body by chewing gum, tapping your feet, fidgeting or changing your posture.
— Erica Moe is an ACSM certified exercise physiologist who writes on behalf of the Mission Valley YMCA where she is fitness director.