How can you lose excess fat? You try to eat sensibly. You go to the gym 4 times a week. But still that stubborn fat stays there, mocking your attempts to get rid of it.
One very good way to increase fat loss could be NEAT -- non-exercise activity thermogenesis. This is the energy consumption of our bodies during normal daily activities -- anything from sitting down and watching television to doing hard manual work. In other words, all our activities that burn off energy and that don't involve formal, structured exercise.
Most of us need to move about more. But most of us are very sedentary. We have physically undemanding jobs, we travel to and from them in cars or buses and our leisure time often involves sitting down. Many of us also eat more than we need to.
If you want to boost your fat burning you need to be more active.
Studies have shown that those who sit for long periods are more likely to be overweight than their more active counterparts. For example, if you sit watching television for 6 hours you will only burn an extra 30 calories above your body's normal maintenance level of energy expenditure. But if you do something more active, such as gardening or painting the spare bedrooms, you will burn an extra 750-1125 calories (1). All right, 6 hours of gardening might be a bit excessive but half that time is not excessive and you will burn hundreds of extra calories in 3 hours. It might seem obvious that people who sit for extended periods are more likely be overweight in comparison to people who are more active, but many people do spend too much time sitting down.
Having elevated insulin and glucose levels can lead to ill health. Post prandial (after meals) blood sugar (glucose) spikes are higher in healthy people who are not very active than in healthy people who are active (2). People with active lives have low blood sugar spikes after meals due, partly, to the fact that activity depletes muscles of sugar and the muscles, with the help of insulin, soak up sugar from meals to replenish their stores.
Other studies have shown that, in overweight people, those who sit for long periods have higher insulin and blood glucose levels after meals than those who stand up and move around more often (3). Something as simple as standing up every 20 minutes for 2 minutes of light-intensity walking -- just strolling around -- can help to lower insulin and blood sugar levels after a meal in those who habitually sit for long periods at work or at home.
Physically active people are less likely to develop type-2 diabetes, stroke, some forms of cancer and osteoporosis (4). That knowledge alone should prompt you to be more active every day.
It's very important to remain active, even if you are slim and healthy. Activity not only burns fat -- it helps to keep you healthy in so many ways. We are 'designed' to be active and inactivity makes us rust up as surely as it makes a hinge rust up.
If you want to increase your NEAT there are many ways to do so. You could walk to work or to the shops rather than using the car. You could use fewer labour-saving devices. You could stand up every 20 or 30 minutes at work and do a few squats or press ups. Take the stairs instead of the lift. Go for a walk in your lunch break. When you watch television, get up and move about when the advertisements come on. Wash your car with a bucket and sponge instead of using an automated car wash. Generally, never be inactive for too long. Frequent movement will increase the number of calories you burn and the amount of fat you shed. But don't eat larger meals as a reward or because you think you need to replace the extra energy you're using.
I do all of those things and I also do formal exercises 5 days a week. Even physically fit people can benefit from more NEAT.
You can make a difference starting today. All you have to do is move more.
1. Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology. 2006 Apr;26(4):729-36.
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis: the crouching tiger hidden dragon of societal weight gain.
2. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2012 Feb;44(2):225-31.
Lowering physical activity impairs glycemic control in healthy volunteers.
3. Diabetes Care. 2012 May;35(5):976-83.
Breaking up prolonged sitting reduces postprandial glucose and insulin responses.
4. Journal of Obesity. 2011;2011. pii: 360257.
Physical activity plays an important role in body weight regulation.