Tuesday, September 23, 2008

This is N.E.A.T.

You can divide human energy consumption up into three generally recognised categories. They are base metabolism, active exercise and non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). You need about 80 calories an hour just to stay alive – this is what you burn while lying on the couch watching TV. When you put on your running shoes and sprint around the block that is active exercise. When you get up and go to the fridge to grab a beer you burn a little more and this activity is N.E.A.T.

So the energy consumption of a human body that is an idle state is relatively high at around 2000 calories a day more or less depending on the individual. When you actively exercise you can burn around 100 to 500 calories more. This figure is often greatly exaggerated and people sometimes include the base metabolism burn rate along with the extra amount consumed during active exercise when they are calculating how many calories they have expended.

It has been found that the area where people seem to vary the most with their energy consumption is in every day activities. The difference between some fat and thin people is not in the energy that they consume as food but the energy that they expend just moving around. There can be a huge difference with some people burning as much as 2000 calories more than others. These people must be on the go all the time, rarely sitting down to rest throughout the day. They probably never rest and pace backwards and forwards and generally fidget all day long. At the other end of the scale there are people who rarely move, work at a desk and as soon as they see a chair they sit in it. Young people in general fit into the naturally active category and it seems that as we age we get less and less active. If you observe children they are always on the go, even when they are talking to you they will often be rocking back and forth or spinning around. This would be rather strange and possibly downright scary in an adult which is a shame as this is the best sort of activity if you want to burn heaps of calories. In theory, if you kept up a childlike sort of energy expenditure you could get away without having to worry too much how much you ate.

One good thing about this sort of energy use is that it is generally non-damaging. Active exercise, where you are striving to burn calories or increase strength is fraught with danger, running can cause severe damage to knees and ankles while weights and other exercises can damage backs and arms, especially if done with poor form. Too much weight lifting and running can leave you virtually crippled if you are not very careful and you could end up being forced to be inactive and having to rely on strict diets to control your weight while being barely able to function a s a normal active human being. An older person is probably more prone to injury and slower recovery too. It's way better to be just functionaly fit rather than super fit if being super fit exposes you to structural damage.

The answer is to be aware of and actively embrace N.E.A.T. All activity should be seen as a form of exercise. This bit is important as it seems that if you think mowing the lawn or doing the vacuuming is an exercise that improves your body and burns calories then it is much more effective and enjoyable as well. At all times throughout the day you should be thinking about keeping your body moving. Never sit when you can stand, take the stairs, walk to your destination if it is feasible. Consciously hold your gut in and try to keep a good posture as this will improve your core and consumes energy. Stand on one leg or lift your self up on your toes. Never hesitate to bend down and pick things up. Always be on the look out for ways to burn energy and keep the body moving and flexible.

In short, make constant movement a habit of a lifetime. The goal will be to eventually achieve it without conscious effort and maintain a healthy, flexible body that is practically functional long into old age.

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