When you sit, sleep, talk, laugh, eat or even WhatsApp, you are constantly using up energy and producing heat. There is metabolism at play even during rest – which is your body’s machinery constantly at work. In this resting metabolism even if the person is asleep, the breathing, the digestion, repair of cells, fat storage, the working liver and kidneys, the constantly working brain, the muscle tone, all consume energy. This accounts for your metabolism or BMR (Basal metabolic rate).
At this point, I would like to introduce you to a concept in nutrition called NEAT. NEAT is short for Non-exercise activity Thermogenesis. NEAT can be simply put as ‘heat produced in your body not because of targeted exercise’.
Your metabolism comprises 70 percent of your calories burnt whereas workout uses up a meagre 15 per cent. The remaining 15 per cent goes into your day-to-day activities.
What if we increased that energy spent during metabolism and on those mundane chores?
So, if you are talking on the phone rather than lying down or sitting, pace around and talk. If you are lying down checking Facebook and texting, stand up and do it. If you have two floors in your house, rather than telling your household helper to get you stuff from the other floor, climb up and get it yourself. If you have a desk job at an IT firm (like most Bangaloreans do!) which requires you to code for hours on end, take a standing break every hour and stand on your tippy toes for two minutes or climb two flights of stairs every two hours. Are you willing to spend money on a weight-loss programme? Spend that money on an activity tracker and count your steps. Not a big fan of spending money on gadgets? Download an app on your phone and use that to track your activity. Hate these apps and gadgets like I do? Great! Motivate yourself and consciously keep moving and reduce time spent on your bottom!
Fat is not burnt just by exercise. In fact fat continues to burn after exercise too. This is called ‘Post exercise oxygen consumption’. If a patient asks me whether he should workout in the morning before his office timing or not exercise and take NEAT breaks throughout the day even during office hours, I would definitely recommend the latter.
NEAT basically is increasing your metabolic rate and activity level to lose weight. Focused activity such as exercise is great but of limited value in a super-swamped mother’s life for losing weight and keeping it off. Lack of motivation or time or any other reason for an exercise schedule should not stop you from losing weight. Take ‘NEAT breaks’ to step away from your work and get moving for five minutes. Watching a movie? Get up and do fifteen squats and two planks (lasting one-minute each) and go back to your movie. This takes just three minutes but what you have effectively done is jump-started your metabolism, got the muscles pumping and risen your blood pressure transiently. Just this much activity will encourage more efficient fat burning for the next few hours. (Enough women in my practice have lost sleep over not completing their compulsory 10,000 steps or their one hour yoga during the day on their weight loss journey. Go easy on yourself mama, get 5-6 NEAT breaks during the day and you are good to go!)
The mechanism by which NEAT works at burning fat is by stimulating the enzyme HSL, which opposes the fat storing action of insulin and is released when the muscles are active. So, if you stand when you could be sitting, you are increasing the action of this enzyme and promoting the burning of fat in your body. If you do a set of twenty jumping jacks while watching a movie, you boost your heart rate and cause the production of adrenaline by this sudden spurt of activity. The adrenaline released promotes the action of HSL and so do the activated muscles. This spurt of activity boosts your metabolism, prolongs fat burning and post activity oxygen consumption.
Some examples of NEAT breaks:
Now the important thing to take note of here is that these small activity bursts are better at keeping weight off you than doing a rigorous workout and sitting for the rest of the day. Even if you started your day by hitting the gym, the metabolism boost you got by your routine will last only a couple of hours and will slow down as you spend your time sitting through the day. You don’t have to do all the exercises I mentioned and try to aim for a 5-6 such sets through the day. Just remember, don’t sit at a stretch for more than two hours.