Where The Calories Go To Play

Article by Dr. Paul Kennedy
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In last month’s TOTM (“ I Just Want to Lose Weight!”), I stated that the “culprit” in unwanted fat weight gain was too many calories compared to the amount of calories used to support the body’s activities. In other words, too little activity and too much food! But there is a corollary to the formula that many fail to implement in their daily lives. It’s easy to reduce caloric intake a bit (say, 200 calories per day) and to engage in a bit more daily exercise (a short daily walk, for example). But there are other factors that can help in a big way and that can have permanent positive effects on weight control. Here’s how?

Basically, there are three types of energy “expenditure” but two of them can work for us in subtle yet effective ways. The first type of expenditure is the amount and types of activities in which we engage. Some of us do a great job with that “extra” expenditure in the form of additional exercise above and beyond our daily activities. But, if our caloric intake stays the same and we become even slightly less active, we tend to gain fat weight. This is why it’s important to engage in activities that we enjoy and that require us to get up and move around. In the case of this “expenditure”, doing SOME type of physical activity (no matter how seemingly insignificant) is better than doing nothing. And, of course, the more extra “expenditure” that we do, the better it is for us from the standpoint of burning calories.

There is a second type of caloric expenditure that many individuals don’t even think about but is responsible for anywhere from 10% to 30 % of our daily total. That type is known as the Thermic Effect. The body’s processing of the food that we eat causes this “Effect”. That’s right! It requires calories to digest and or assimilate food. For this reason, it has been postulated that eating several smaller meals throughout the day will increase the level of the Thermic Effect and “burn” additional calories and there is a rather robust amount of research to back up that idea. The amount of additional calories burned per day might not seem huge but over a year the number can be significant and prevent the gain of, perhaps, a few pounds. In addition, it has also been shown that moderate levels of exercise (such as a brisk walk) following the ingestion of food (i.e. a meal) can increase this Thermic Effect and assist in burning even more calories. Human beings evolved as hunters and “snackers” (eating small amounts of food throughout the day) and, therefore, it should not be a surprise that our digestive systems respond to this

type of eating plan.

The third type of energy “expenditure”, about which I have written often in this ongoing column, is known as Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR (see “But How Many Calories?” in the archive), the rate at which we naturally burn calories. And what is a major driver of metabolic rate? Lean body tissue’otherwise known as muscle. As we lose muscle mass or lean body tissue through lack of challenging physical activity, our bodies burn fewer calories throughout the day. A typical lean body tissue loss “rate” is about ½ to 1 pound per year after the age of about twenty-five (and even earlier in particularly sedentary individuals). This can mean that the reason for creeping overweight as we age can be directly linked to our lack of lean body tissue. It also means that we need to engage in some type of CHALLENGING physical activity as often as possible—even if it means something as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevator. It shows—proves, actually–that strength training can be a significant factor in controlling fat weight gain as we age since it helps to maintain or perhaps even increase our amount of lean body tissue which drives BMR.

Indeed, Basal Metabolic Rate can also be enhanced by what is known as “NEAT”, an acronym for Non-Exercise Activity Total. These are the calories that we can burn throughout the day by being just a little more active at work—particularly if one has a sedentary job. It appears that it is possible to burn a few more calories per hour by just moving a bit more during the day. Of course, for people with more active jobs that require more physical effort, this extra movement is not, in most cases, necessary or even possible but for those who sit in front of a computer screen or at a desk all day, this non-exercise activity (some would call it “fidgeting”) can add up. These voluntary extra movements include reaching, standing, shifting position, using the stairs, anything that requires a little more effort than just sitting still. It gives a whole new meaning to the term “Get busy!”

So if you’re not active, get active. And get your metabolism in the game by exercising and strength training your body on a regular basis. Your BMR and thermic response can do its part only if you do yours. For example, burning just ten extra calories per hour from, say, 7AM to 7PM can result in about a one-pound fat weight loss per month or twelve pounds per year. Along with a reasonable eating plan, that total can easily be DOUBLED. And that doesn’t even count the calories burned during a regularly scheduled workout like a brisk walk, run or strength training session. The numbers don’t lie but the rest is up to you.

I’m Dr. Paul Kennedy and that’s the “Be Fit, Stay Fit” Topic of the Month. Good luck with YOUR program. I KNOW you can do it!

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