Sitting in the cafeteria with my banana, granola and yogurt concoction in hand, I can’t help but gaze across the throng of students stuffing their faces in glee, contemplating their second trips through the line for dessert. My eyes fall on a couple sharing a table near the windows. The guy is busily shuffling through his newspaper, tapping his foot, taking swigs of water and can barely sit still. The girl sitting across from him remains stationary, simply reading her book. Although she looks rather annoyed with him for being restless, what she may not realize is that such small, everyday activities play an integral part in staying fit. Perusing the cafeteria options, climbing the stairs to do your laundry or walking to your CF’s door instead of e-mailing him/her are all great ways to remain active during the frigid winter months. These aren’t the sort of things you would do at the gym, but each of these activities counts in terms of burning calories and keeping weight under control.
Research published in the journal Science indicates that lean people tend to do more of these sorts of activities throughout a typical day than obese people, suggesting that even minor activities play an important role in burning fat, including picking your nose (gross, I know).
Such activities are called non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or NEAT, according to Dr. James Levine, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic. Dr. Levine is the leading author of the study which proved that doing these various activities throughout the day (without going to the gym) can burn off as many as 350 calories a day. No sweat!
Dr. Levine also conducted a study at the Mayo Clinic investigating the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and the amount of energy people typically expended throughout the day doing regular, non-exercise activities. To measure expended energy, subjects were all provided with specially designed undergarments embedded with technology to measure and record how many times people stood, sat, laid down or walked, and for how long. Movements were measured every half second for 24 hours a day over ten days. At the end of the ten day study period, researchers found that the obese subjects sat for an average of 164 minutes per day more than their lean counterparts. The lean people were upright (standing or walking) for an average of 152 minutes longer than the obese subjects. People in both groups had similar types of jobs and slept for the same amount of time.
“Importantly, what it represents is an extra two and a half hours of standing and walking time, not going to the gym,” Dr. Levine said. The calories used could be sufficient to keep weight in check.
You are probably thinking, “But, we are, like, the sixth fittest college in like the nation or something!” I know, right? But the “feels like negative 57 degrees” on the webpage and the brutal wind on the hill prevent many of us from escaping our residences unless we are on a mission to steal trays—I mean, pull those sleds out from under our futons and go sledding down Old Main hill. I am not suggesting that you study for exams while doing laps around the library, or walk through the McDonald’s drive-through (they don’t allow it, anyway). All I am trying to do is let all you toe tappers and knee jigglers out there know that you are doing yourself a favor. Are you a stationary lazy butt? Try simple tasks to remain active such as resisting the elevator in Olin, playing night games in the Norelius stairwells or pretending you only have thirty seconds to get to class and running there! By tapping my foot the entire time I wrote this article, perhaps I saved myself a trip to Lund, or earned a cookie…O.K., one bite of a cookie?