All the hype these days is people assuming they have “slow metabolisms” which is their justification as to why they cannot lose the weight they have been trying to get rid of for years.
Let’s tackle this “slow metabolism” thing here so we can get that fairytale excuse out of the way.
The ‘I have a slow metabolism’ Myth
“I find it hard to lose weight because I have a slow metabolism”
We’ve all heard it, but is there any truth to it?
Donahoo and colleagues investigated this claim in their 2004 review and found that the coefficient of variation of resting metabolic rate is approximately 5-8%. (check it out here)
Practically speaking, this means that at a given body weight, the difference in energy used for vital body functions from person to person would be about 100-300 Calories per day. Therefore, this would only explain a small part of the variance in resting metabolic rate, and at the same time, demonstrating that the idea of having a “slow metabolism” is for the most part, wrong.
Instead, it would seem that the main factor in the energy outside of the energy equation that explains a greater predisposition for weight gain is ‘non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT)’. This is the energy we burn from activity that isn’t strictly exercise, e.g. walking, cleaning, fidgeting etc.
Some people do find it a lot harder to lose weight than others, but their “slow metabolism” isn’t the issue.
NEAT can actually vary between 2,000 calories per day based on the individual. That’s quite the difference!
Answer: Daily movement, or lack thereof, from person to person.
In reality is most people don’t have a slow metabolism problem, they have a lack of movement problem. A recent survey commissioned by Ergotron, a global manufacturing company of products including standing desks, showed that many of us spend up to 13 hours a day sitting down staring at computers at our jobs or watching T.V. at home. Add in the 8 hours of sleep you should be getting per night, that’s up to 21 out of 24 hours a day sitting on our bums. You often hear fitness enthusiasts say, “A one hour workout is only 4% of your day, no excuses.” But is that really enough? Is there other activities we can do throughout the day that can lead us closer to our goals without the hour torture session in the gym? Let’s find out.
Ask someone how they would go about losing weight, and most likely the first thing they say will be “start exercising.” While they may not be wrong, there are many other ways to burn a lot of calories throughout the day outside of the dreaded gym session. This is known as Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (N.E.A.T.) which is the movement or activity done outside of the gym such as standing, pacing, walking, lifting objects, walking up stairs, etc. The importance of your activity outside of the gym could be the key you’ve been looking for to improve your health, lose fat, and maintain a healthy weight.
Improve your overall health:
According to a survey commissioned by Ergotron, Jane Payger, an Ergotron Spokesperson says, “Research is showing links between sedentary lifestyles and diabetes, several types of cancer, obesity and cardiovascular disease”. This survey also showed that on top of being mostly sedentary at work all day, the respondents also:
-Sit another 1-2 hours watching T.V.
-Read or lounge 1-2 hours around their homes
-Use their home computers for 1-2 hours
That’s a lot of sitting around.
It’s sad to say (and hear) but in reality sitting is the new smoking.
A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that men and women who sat more than six hours a day died earlier than their counterparts who limited sitting time to 3 hours a day or less. The study surveyed 53,440 men and 69,776 women who were healthy at the start of the study and over the course of the 14-year follow-up they saw a higher rate of mortality among the frequent sitters. “Associations were strongest for cardiovascular disease mortality. The time spent sitting was independently associated with total mortality, regardless of physical activity level,” the study says.
Constant Sitting Interferes with LPL
LPL or lipoprotein lipase is an enzyme that breaks down fat and uses it as energy, when the enzyme isn’t working as it should, that fat is stored. In a study published in The Journal of Physiology, mice were tested for LPL levels in three states—laying down for most of the day, standing for most of the day and exercising. LDL activity in the laying mice was very low, levels rose more than 10 times when the mice simply stood but exercise had no additional effects on the LDL levels in the mice’s legs. The researchers expect the results to carry over in humans too. The larger point is that people can’t combat the effects of sitting with a half hour or hour of exercise alone—standing throughout the day is the answer. Reference: here
Sitting 6 + hours per day increases risk for Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes.
So what can we do to get rid of some of the weight, and improve our health?
Let’s Take a stand:
Seriously, stand up. Simply standing instead of sitting increase energy expenditure, improves posture, increases blood flow, and boost metabolism. Not only is standing an effective and efficient way to burn more calories, but it can also help maintain stable blood sugar levels. A study done by Dr. John Buckley and a team of researchers from the University of Chester conducted an experiment with 10 people who work sedentary jobs, having them stand for at least three hours a day for a week. The evidence showed that the blood glucose levels of participants fell back to normal levels after a meal far more quickly on the days the volunteers stood than when they sat. Scientific evidence of this goes back to the 1950’s when a study was done comparing bus conductors who stand versus bus drivers who sit. Published in the Lancet, this study showed that bus conductors had about half the risk of developing heart disease compared to bus drivers. By simply standing more, we can manage or blood sugar levels more effectively keeping them more stable throughout the day which can decrease hunger, cravings, and overeating.
Stand more to lose more:
The research of Dr. John Buckley’s study also showed that just standing alone instead of sitting caused the volunteers to have a much higher heart rate (around 10 beats per minute higher) which burns about 0.7 of a calorie more per minute. 0.7 of a calorie? That doesn’t sound like much. But it adds up overtime. It adds up to about 50 more calories burned per hour versus sitting. Consciously standing at work can add up to 200-300 more calories burned during the day, which is probably about the same amount (or even more) than you’d burn in an hour at the gym slaying away on the elliptical.
Walk it off: My personal experience
I personally saw this work effectively in my own life when my girlfriend and I took a backpacking trip to Europe for three weeks. We enjoyed ourselves and were pretty lenient on our diets while we were there. A typical day looked something like this:
8am: Breakfast- baked good (bread) and hummus
11am: Snack- apple with peanut butter or carrots with hummus
2pm: Lunch- sandwich or pizza
3pm: Dessert- “Bueno” chocolate candy bar
5pm: Snack- soft pretzel and a banana
7pm: Dinner- sandwich and soup
8pm: Dessert- GELATO.
It was basically a three week carb load for myself. One would think that without actually stepping foot in a gym, lifting any weights, or doing any form of cardio exercise, I would definitely gain a little bit of weight once I returned home. I sure thought so. Come to find out as I stepped on the scale when I got home… I lost 6 pounds. I was noticeably leaner all around. I was shocked! How could I lose all this weight by eating all this delicious and glutinous foods? On our trip, we walked. We walked a lot. We were on our feet the majority of the day either walking or standing. Like the study mentioned earlier, the calories burned from standing and walking versus sitting adds up. I was losing two pounds per week eating whatever the heck I wanted! Now by no means am I saying you can eat whatever you want everyday and achieve your health and fitness goals, but I am saying that you can be more lenient with your diet if you are more active throughout the day. Or you can use N.E.A.T. as a tool to lose weight or even maintain your weight once you are comfortable where you’re at. If your goal is fat loss, use your day as a fat loss battlefield by incorporating movement as much as possible.
So in what ways can we incorporate N.E.A.T. into our daily lives to lose fat, maintain our weight, and improve our overall health?
A simple, yet effective plan of attack is to think about your day and your activity. When are you most sedentary? Think of planning out your day as a calorie burning machine. What can you do right now to burn more calories? What change can you make for this happen?
Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered…
6 simple steps to a healthier version of yourself:
(I got this from the NASM blog here)
Step 1. Make a list of your normal day (i.e. 6am-7am get ready for work, 7:30am-8am commute to work, 8am-4pm work at desk mainly sitting down, etc). This can be a good visual to see just how sedentary you are throughout the day. Brace yourself, it can be scary!
Step 2. Identify the times when you are mostly sedentary. This will most likely be at work and in the evening at home after dinner.
Step 3. Think of creative ways to accomplish the same tasks while being more active. For example, stand at work more instead of sitting all day. Go for a walk outside after dinner instead of flipping on the television.
Step 4. Challenge yourself to try the ideas you came up with for at least a week, starting with the easiest options first. For example in the workplace, set a timer for every hour and once the timer goes off, stand up and move. Walk a few laps around the office or just continue working in a standing position.
Step 5. Evaluate your experience at the end of the week. If you feel like you can continue to incorporate these small changes into your daily routine then go another week. Reevaluate again after week two and add in more movement.
Step 6. Create the habit to keep it off. With any good thing, consistency is key. Changes don’t happen overnight. It’s the small things added up overtime that lead to results. If you can keep up with these small changes for two weeks, you have proven to yourself that this can be a new healthy daily habit. Overtime, this will pay off!
“Okay, I’ve got a plan of attack, but what are other ways can I move more?”
Again, I’ve got your back with these:
10 Simple Ways to Increase Your N.E.A.T.
1. Stand more. Get a stand up desk at work. Most tasks done sitting can also be done standing. Standing burns three times more calories than sitting does.
2. Walk more. Walking at just one mph will double your energy expenditure (calories burned) compared to sitting. Walking burns about 5 calories per minute, so you’d burn 5 times more calories from walking versus sitting. Have you seen the treadmill desks? I personally think these will be the future of our workplace.
3. Consciously make things harder for yourself. Park further away at work or at the grocery store. Take the stairs whenever possible. Force yourself to be more active.
4. Have a dog? I bet they’d like to get outside more too! Incorporate walking your dog around the block into your daily routine.
5. Wash your car by hand instead of taking it to the car wash.
6. Stand or pace around the house when talking on the phone.
7. Need to run a few errands? Is your local grocery store in walking distance? If not, I bet it’s within biking distance!
8. Can’t give up your favorite T.V. shows? No problem. Use commercial breaks to drop down and do some pushups and bodyweight squats.
9. Do some yard work on the weekends.
10. Have kids? Play with them more!
These are just a few ways you can integrate more movement into your day or week to increase your overall calorie burn. And I understand that most of what I’ve discussed here is nothing new to us. We know that moving more will result in better health and potential weight loss. The problem is that we don’t do anything about it. We must take action to see change. I personally like this approach for fat loss as increasing NEAT can replace spending more time at the gym on a cardio machine that I don’t even want to be on in the first place. It comes down to what are you willing to sacrifice to see change in your life? If you could improve your health and lose some weight by simple standing more often, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or parking further away from the store, would you be willing to make that small sacrifice? Increasing your NEAT is an effect strategy for this as it’s fairly effortless, realistic, and can easily be incorporated in your daily routine and lifestyle. Remember, every little extra effort counts and really does add up. Burning as little as 200 more calories per day translates to 1,400 calories per week, 5,600 calories per month, and 67,200 calories per year, which equates to almost 20 pounds of weight loss without even breaking a sweat! Add in these small activities to your daily routine and you’ll find it much more manageable to lose weight, maintain your weight, and improve your overall health and well being without sacrificing more time spent slaving away on the treadmill.
“Calorie Burner: How Much Better Is Standing Up Than Sitting? -BBC News” BBC News, Oct 2013. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.
“Simple Changes Can Make a Big Difference in Health and Productivity.” New Survey:
To Sit or Stand? Almost 70% of Full Time American Workers Hate Sitting, but They Do
It All Day Every Day. Ed. Michelle Judd. Ergotron, 17 July 2013. Web. 12 June 2016.