Add More NEAT to Your Life
by Laurel-Lea Shannon
Sitting at a desk eight hours a day can be a royal pain in the a##. Sedentary occupations (like working at a computer) used to be considered harmless. Not anymore. It turns out that all that sitting day in and day out can make you sick.
Prolonged sitting is a leading cause of obesity, and also increases the risk of other diseases, including heart disease, cancer and depression. “There is compelling evidence that a sedentary and unfit way of life… increases the risk of numerous chronic diseases and conditions and decreases longevity,” say Steven N. Blair, PED and William L. Haskell, Ph.D. in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Who Is At Risk?
Even if you work out regularly, have six-pack abs and look fabulous in a swimsuit, you may still be at risk for developing sitting disease and the consequent health problems. If your main exercise is road cycling, where you spend long hours in the saddle hunched over the handlebars, you’re especially at risk.
Sitting disease is caused by a chronic lack of activity throughout the day. Working at desk jobs, surfing the internet, playing video games, watching television, and driving our cars robs us of much of the exercise we need during the day to keep us healthy and trim. We burn 1500 to 2000 fewer calories a day than we did 30 years ago. Not only is this making us fat, it’s making us sick.
What is NEAT?
James A Levine, MD, of the Mayo Clinic, studies the effects of non-exercise activity on the body. Known as NEAT, or “non-exercise activity thermogenesis,” it accounts for most of your movement throughout the day, and the calories you burn. NEAT includes everyday activities like climbing stairs, walking from your car to the office, doing the dishes, shopping, walking to catch a bus, folding laundry, vacuuming, standing. It does not include running, cycling, swimming or other forms of intense exercise.
Use It or Lose It
When you sit for long periods, your body goes into rest mode. Your circulation slows down and your metabolism goes into a slow simmer. That’s fine if you need a short break, but the human body isn’t designed to sit in rest mode all day. We’re meant to move—to stand, walk, run and play throughout the day. That’s how we stay healthy.
Prolonged sitting reduces the blood flow in your legs by one-third. This can lead to spider veins, varicose veins, and, in extreme cases, deep-vein thrombosis—a blood clot that develops in the deep veins of the leg. These blood clots are potentially fatal if they migrate to an artery in your lungs causing a blockage—a condition known as a pulmonary embolism.
Sitting is not only hard on your bum, it’s bad for your back. Too much chair time causes the hip flexors and hamstrings to shorten and ball up into tight knots. At the same time, the muscles that support your lower back and pelvis become over-stretched and weak—a major cause of lower back pain.
Fortunately, this is one disease that has a cure, a simple one: move your body. If you’re desk-bound, find ways to build in movement breaks throughout the day.
“Walk for 15 minutes before starting work and do some gentle stretches. Then, on your lunch break go for another 15 to 30 minute walk,” says Dr. Elaine Chagnon, chiropractor and owner of the Perth Family Health Centre in Perth, Ontario. “Get up from your desk every hour. Walk and move around for a couple of minutes. Pace in your office while you talk on the phone.”
Some companies provide adjustable desks which give employees the option to stand or sit while they work. Depending on your height, a laptop placed on a small bookshelf or a drafting table may offer a much needed change in position.
If you have trouble coming up with your own solutions, James Levine recently co-authored a book called Move a Little, Lose a Lot: New N.E.A.T. Science Reveals How to Be Thinner, Happier, and Smarter, to help people find ways to build more non-exercise activity into their daily routines.
Add more NEAT to your life and you’ll be healthier, slimmer and more energized. You may even find that many of your chronic aches and pains miraculously disappear.
Now that you’ve finished reading this article, please stand up and take a short walk!
© Laurel-Lea Shannon