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Move Your Body

An article in the April issue of the Nutrition Action Health Letter on the correlation between moving your body more and weight loss intrigued me. James Levin, professor and researcher in the Division of Endocrinology at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, heads something called the NEAT lab which studies the effect of body movement and expending energy on weight. NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, which is any movement that is not exertion for the sake of physical fitness.

Levin’s studies conclude that by keeping moving we can burn off calories without formal exercise. Not that he eschews the activity; rather he encourages people to use NEAT along with exercise, saying, “If you look at an average sedentary person, 60% of total daily energy expenditure is basal metabolic rate, 30% is NEAT, and 10% is the thermal effect of food—the calories you burn to digest, absorb, and store the food you eat.” He maintains that by getting up more (ie, out of a sitting position) and doing more activities standing rather than sitting or lying down, you can push NEAT up to 40%.

Now I’m not encouraging you to toss out your office chair (as Levin has), but I like the idea of keeping moving. As someone who sits at work (writing or treating clients in psychotherapy), I’m always antsy to get up and move around. Perhaps because I do so much sitting, I find that I make and take most of my phone calls standing up (even my teletherapy sessions!) and prefer eating standing at a counter rather than sitting down. When you have energy in your body, why not use it to keep your blood flowing! And, remember, doing more generates energy, creating a positive feedback loop.

It may be hard for those of you who carry a great deal of weight to move around a lot, but doing so may help you shed some of it. Unless you have underlings to do your bidding, there are generally chores to do at home and work to keep the body in action. Staying active or remaining sedentary are mindsets: if you look for ways to move, you’ll find them, and if you look for ways to remain a couch potato, you’ll find them as well.

Levin recommends walking and talking at work rather than sitting down in a meeting. If you have to read a report, he suggests pacing back and forth or circling your office rather than kicking back in your chair. In fact, he and his team are designing public spaces that will encourage this kind of activity so that it will become more the norm than the exception. For me, a surprising bonus from moving around, especially when I’m working, is that it keeps my head clear. Give it a try and see how you like it.