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When I reviewed the (in)famous TIME Magazine article about exercise not necessarily leading to weightloss, I noted that the most interesting part of the article was this idea:

...whether it is exercise — sweaty, exhausting, hunger-producing bursts of activity done exclusively to benefit our health — that leads to all these benefits or something far simpler: regularly moving during our waking we need to stress our bodies at the gym?
...very frequent, low-level physical activity — the kind humans did for tens of thousands of years before the leaf blower was invented — may actually work better for us than the occasional bouts of exercise you get as a gym rat.

Amble with me over the jump for a no-sweat discussion of the benefits of activity.

WHEE (Weight, Health, Eating and Exercise) is a community support diary for Kossacks who are currently or planning to start losing, gaining or maintaining their weight through diet and exercise or fitness. Any supportive comments, suggestions or positive distractions are appreciated. If you are working on your weight or fitness, please -- join us! You can also click the WHEE tag to view all diary posts.

The idea that low-level activity can be "just as good" as sweaty exercise is not a new idea. This is the heart of the "10,000 Steps" exercise programs that have become popular in the last few years.

Last year, the company I work for sponsored a corporate-wide exercise competition based on the "10,000 Steps" concept. Several of my co-workers formed a walking team to go for the site championship. The star of the team was one guy who wore his pedometer and kept moving EVERYWHERE. He even marched in place while watching TV after work. His six-year-old daughter started marching with him in his living room, although she wasn't even on the team! With Jason at the helm (no, the team's name was not the "The Argonauts"), the team won the site victory - and Jason kept up his steps for a few weeks after the challenge and dropped 15 pounds.

Dr. James Levine, of the Mayo Clinic, has coined the acronym NEAT, for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. Levine's site notes:

Activity Thermogenesis has two constituents, exercise-related activity thermogenesis and Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT). For the vast majority of dwellers in the U.S., exercise activity thermogenesis is negligible.

Dr. Levine's research has inspired the treadmill desk - a platform that fits above the control head of a treadmill to hold a laptop, phone, books, and other needed office equipment. Dr. Levine has appeared on Good Morning America to talk about the treadmill desk:

What kind of difference can NEAT make? Here are a couple of screenshots showing my calorie expenditure yesterday:

In this first picture, I've used the bodybugg highlight slider to show my energy expenditure from 3:48 to 4:48, when I was sitting at my desk for the whole period. As you can see, the calorie burn per minute was around 1.2 calories per minute - barely more than the bodybugg program assumes one burns while asleep.

Here, I've focused on the period from 2:30 to 3:30 PM. Instead of working at my desk, I was standing in our shipping room, doing nothing more strenuous than putting archive CDs into shipping envelopes. Yet, that low-level activity more than doubled my calorie burn - and I wasn't even marching in place!

Do I think Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis is "just as good" as exercise? Well, looking at the start and end of my work day, you can see the calorie burn from my eight-mile commute to and from work, respectively. This kind of daily exercise (combined with attention to what I eat) has enabled me to lose 30 pounds since I started riding to work back in April. Exercise is GREAT - provided you're ready for it. But I've been riding my bike to work off and on for the past 30 years. I'm experienced and my body responds well to that exercise. If I tried to jog or swim for 90 minutes a day, however, I'd quit after the first week -- if I even lasted that long!

Despite what Gary Taubes or John Cloud might think, exercise CAN work for you - if you can work at the exercise, that is. But if you're not up for that kind of exertion, just "Stepping up" your daily activity can make a huge difference. Isn't that NEAT to know?

   Here's the current WHEE diary schedule, so far as I know. Please volunteer...More participants, more fun! Comment to tip jar and I'll add you wherever you wish.

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   Wed AM - yr humble servant
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It's Time For Back-To-School!
My bike commute runs along the west side of the main University of Texas campus here in Austin. It was a very quiet ride during the summer semester, but now all the students are back, I'm dodging a lot more pedestrians on the way to work. There are compensations, however:

This is actually a picture that was posted to back in July, after the Tour de France -- but that's pretty much how I roll. Or how I would roll, if I didn't have to worry about potholes and dodging other pedestrians. Ah, youth is wasted on the young...

Originally posted to Edward Spurlock on Wed Sep 09, 2009 at 07:19 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Reply to this comment... (15+ / 0-)

    ...if you'd like to take an open WHEE diary slot.

    And good morning, WHEEbles!

  •  And a very good morning to you, too! (9+ / 0-)

    The weather today was just perfect for walking in to work.

    I wonder if I could persuade my boss to get me one of those treadmill desks? Hmm . . .

  •  Just discovered WHEE yesterday (13+ / 0-)

    and am glad I did!  Thanks for an interesting and informative (and fun!) diary.

  •  I recall some years ago (8+ / 0-)

    reading an article or two about "why that hyperactive guy that can't keep from tapping his foot and is always figeting is skinnier than you" - and it always stuck with me because I worked with a guy like that - he could (and would) consume an entire pie at coffee break while the rest of us would share one - he gobbled down huge piles of food at lunch while I nibbled a bran muffin - he was the classic bean-pole, fidgety guy that those of us that had to watch our calories and exercise levels loved to when I read about the calorie burn of the folks that are always moving in some way, and why it helps to keep them thinner, it stuck with me.

    This NEAT idea seems to be a continuation of that thesis.

    And it really is a neat idea!

    •  my favorite singer here... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, Wee Mama, blue armadillo

      (I'm in Japan) is also really well known as a foodie, like if you ask him for a good Korean BBQ place, he asks "which part of the cow do you want to eat?" level foodie.  He has to keep in shape for concerts and whatnot, so according to him, he does things like stealth-crunches while sitting at the table, little things like that constantly. :)

      Of course, he also does really hardcore dance routines on a regular basis, but every bit helps. :)

      •  Where in Japan are you? (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Wee Mama

        We lived down on Kyushu for a couple of years back in the mid eighties.

        LOVED it.  Japan was so much fun!  Sadly life has been downhill since then(sigh - the march of time is NOT FUN at all!  LOL)

        •  Osaka! (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Wee Mama

          Went to Kyushu once though (to see stealth-crunch guy in concert actually LOL), Fukuoka was lovely, would like to go back sometime. DIdn't get a chance to eat the ramen in Hakata, my biggest regret!

          The early 80s must've been a trip, from what I hear! Still a fun place these days, for the most part. Osaka is neat because the attitude is a bit more "American," they love stand-up comedy and tons of carbohydrates, and if you point your fingers like a gun at a stranger and say "BANG!" most of them will clutch their chest and play dead :)

          •  I visited Osaka with some friends (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Wee Mama

            there is an international school there and the high school kids from the base in Sasebo used to go to school up there.  Talk about a culture shock for families that were assigned overseas - sending their high schoolers all the way to Osaka!

            And yes, Osaka did seem to be more western in many ways - Sasebo is not a huge town and it was VERY Japanese.  At the time we lived there, there were just two ships based there. We lived in the japanese chos and did lots of shopping in the local markets.  Since we loved japanese food, it was a great time for us but we had American freinds that just didn't like it at all.  Made for a LONG tour for them, but my husband and I loved it!

            It was a hoot - gotta love all those festivals - Okunchi in Nagasaki is worth the trip!
            And Gion Matsuri in Kyoto in the summer.  Amazing stuff. And the Golden Week china sales in the pottery areas where the Imari ware is made - truly wonderful!

  •  Neat graphs! (9+ / 0-)

    I sit at a desk all day and that's a pretty dramatic illustration of the principle behind why I've put on a few pounds a year for the last 6 years. I was overweight to start with, now I'm moreso, but trying to take some of it off with easy exercise like walking the dogs regularly. Great thing about the dogs, they encourage me to stick with it!

  •  Great diary ... and hilarious picture! (6+ / 0-)

    That kind of looking is a safety hazard, though.

    On a more serious point, I generally find that exercise is about the ONLY thing that works for me beyond a certain point.  I've lost 12 pounds in the last 2 months, largely by a lot of walking and a little bike riding.  (Just got the bike for the first time in nearly 40 years, so I want to work into that slowly.)

  •  I have to walk wed - fri (6+ / 0-)

    from one building to another (about 1/8 mile), outside in the sunshine numerous times each day. These are the days my weight tends to drop. The diet alone isn't enough. The walking  is a large benefit. Monday and Tuesday I am at my desk all day. I really notice the difference on the days I have to walk.

    1. I lose weight
    1. I feel better physically
    1. Less depressed

    It is a big help! Now, thanks to your diary, I know why.

  •  How long have you been using the Bodybugg? (5+ / 0-)

    Do you actually wear it 24 hours per day?  It seems like that would be uncomfortable, even if you took it off at night when you went to bed and somehow entered your basal caloric expenditure while sleeping.  Also, does it take weight into account, since that has a big influence on calorie expenditure while engaging in activity such as walking?  What are your overall comments on the effectiveness of this device for losing weight?

    •  I don't usually wear the bodybugg 24 x 7 (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, Wee Mama

      When I set up the device on the Apexfitness web site, I entered my expected daily waking hours. If the bodybugg armband is off the body and not recording physiological data during the scheduled sleep period, the bodybugg program assumes a calorie burn of 1 calorie per minute.

      If you look at the first screenshot above, you can see that my calorie burn while sitting at my desk is 1.3 calories / minute, so that 1 calorie / minute for my sleep hours can't be too far off. In fact, I have worn the bodybugg overnight on a few occasions. It registered 1.1 - 1.3 calories per minute while I slept. It wasn't too uncomfortable - I sleep on my left side, and I wear the armband on my right arm when I wear it to bed. The device is as light as a flashdrive MP3 player, so the armband doesn't have to be as tight as my harddrive-based Zune to keep it in place on my arm.

      As you noted, weight does have a big influence on calorie burn during activity and exercise - but that influence will be shown in the physiological parameters measured by the bodybugg armband. That link does say

      The data these 4 sensors collect, in conjunction with the wearer's specific body parameters (age, gender, height, weight) enable the most accurate estimation of energy expenditure on the market today outside of a clinical setting.

      I believe the combination of bodybugg armband AND calorie counting website is a very effective program for losing weight, especially if one includes exercise as part of one's weightloss strategy. At this point, I could use a free website like Fitday to track my calories and estimate my daily calorie burn from BMR and exercise. However, with the bodybugg armband, I can get a better idea of how many calories I've burned before dinner, and know whether I can have a larger helping of my entree or enjoy some fruit for dessert. But the calorie counting (which, I repeat, could be done for free at sites like or accounts for a great deal of my success.

      When the six-month subscription that I got as part of my bodybugg purchase expires next February, I will probably pass the armband on to my wife and buy her a six-month or year subscription to the website, and move my calorie counting to But for now, while I'm still working on losing the last 15 or 20 pounds, I think this gadget is invaluable.

      •  Thanks. I've found a simple pedometer (Omron ... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Wee Mama, Clio2

        HJ-112) is great for getting me to up my activity level.  It's EXTREMELY accurate (far more so than the one I got at a box store for about the same price), and in addition to total steps, it measures "aerobic steps" (defined as at least 100 steps per minute for at least 10 consecutive minutes), aerobic walking time, distance walked (based upon your input of your stride length), and calories burned (based upon your input of your weight).

        It's available from Amazon for $24.95, so even with shipping, you can get it for under $30, and it's by far the best $30 I ever spent.  I keep a spreadsheet with each day's result, and I have a column for steps per minute on my aerobic exercise, since I want to be gradually stepping up the intensity.  If I were going to confine me exercise to walking, I'd be satisfied with it, but I also want to get into biking, so I may need something more sophisticated.

      •  That bodybugg (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Wee Mama

        is really, really cool.

  •  Thanks for a needed bit of perspective (5+ / 0-)

    I tend to fall into "all or nothing" perspective on activity -- if I can't do a "real" work out then that's it for the day.  I know that's not right, of course, but it helps to read something like this to remind myself that any bits of activity throughout the day are good for me.

  •  I am happy to see your candor (6+ / 0-)

    When you say "If I tried to jog or swim for 90 minutes a day,however, I'd quit after the first week--if I even lasted that long!"

    This is precisely the issue that many very obese individuals must confront when they begin their effort to take control over their lifestyle and make positive changes that result in a genuine physical improvement.

    I have told this story so many times I will not bore people repeating much of it.

    In December of 2006 I weighed over 300 pounds.

    I couldn't walk a quarter of a mile without pain or rest.

    Other health related issues were beginning to come into play.

    I had to get some control over myself.

    I chose weight loss as the initial effort, by the way, I, was 55 at the time.

    I cannot say too much about the importance of a Food Diary.

    I can say that my mindset at that time eliminated exercise as an adjunct to weight loss because of the pain it caused when I attempted it in the very recent past.

    I was able to accomplish a great deal of weight loss and after my weight had dropped 75 pounds I went for a walk.

    When I did, there was no pain, no shortness of breath, and the sense of accomplishment electrified my soul.

    I began walking as often as I could, building up to a mile then more, and more, then quicker,and even quicker, nothing record breaking except personally and that is accomplishment enough.

    I am very fortunate to have Deerfield Beach, Florida minutes away, and I use their measured sidewalk found a few feet south of the Pier, along the Atlantic ocean as my walking track whenever possible. There are granite blocks marking quarter mile increments, making it quite simple to time and measure the distance walked.

    My point to make is many who attempt weightloss and lifestyle changes, become discouraged by taking on more work than they are capable of accomplishing at once.

    I speak to those of us who know the feeling of weighing so much that even rolling over in your sleep is literally wrestling with your mattress.

    When you are 100 plus pounds of human lard slathered onto a full sized person, exercising and dieting done all at once is too much to ask of your self at once.

    This community is a great place, I enjoy coming here and reading the information and the comments.

    Everyday I live, I know I will forever be a guy who must control that inner urge to eat it all and eat it now.

    I have come to terms with this fact of my life, I deal with them by focusing my compulsions in the most positive manners available whenever possible.

    I now live on about a 2700 calorie per day intake and exercise by walking in the range of 17 miles per week and do numerous other physical activities to keep my metabolism tuned to a moderately high output.

    Fine tuning you own BMR is something that requires documentation of intake and activity and is ever changing.

    Beware of innocent unrecognized calories such as the 10 calories in fish oil supplement capsules and the 4 calories in the gum you chew.

    Take two fish oil supplements daily, chew 4 pieces of gum, and you have 36 calories in your system.

    In a year that adds up to 13,140 calories or 3.75 pounds you didn't count in your diet.

    "A functioning Democracy must defy economic interests of the elites on behalf of citizens" Christopher Hedges Econ 3.50&Soc. 5.79

    by wmc418 on Wed Sep 09, 2009 at 08:30:10 AM PDT

    •  yes yes yes on the food diary! (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RunawayRose, Wee Mama, wmc418, Clio2

      And you make an important point on here - for most obsese folks, what works for people who are only slightly/moderately overweight just doesn't work, and can even be dangerous.

      One forum I hang out on is an INCREDIBLE source for people wanting to get in shape/good health, people are really helpful to newbies (recently cheered on a 400-lb father-to-be as he managed to lose 200 pounds before his daughter was born).  One of the more interesting things is that almost EVERY time an obese person posts their food log, they're told they're not eating ENOUGH. When you're, for example, 300 pounds, your body needs way more calorie to run than someone who is, say, 160. I think a lot of people don't realize that and go overboard.

      Also, more obvious than your gum tip are drinks. When I switched to Diet Coke from regular in college I lost like 15 pounds in a month from just that. It is CRAZY how many calories we sip through a straw, and some people forget to even write those down in food diaries.

      •  Yes (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Wee Mama

        At my heaviest my BMR was about 3200 calories, and I was likely consuming 3400-3500 daily.

        I stay away from most all drinks with calories.

        I used to drink alcohol but gave it up, I think I drank my quota, and maybe someone else's too.

        "A functioning Democracy must defy economic interests of the elites on behalf of citizens" Christopher Hedges Econ 3.50&Soc. 5.79

        by wmc418 on Wed Sep 09, 2009 at 01:33:24 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I think step counters are great (5+ / 0-)

    I tend to fool myself into thinking I'm more active than I actually am. Wearing a step counter inserts some reality into my life. I think I'll go put it on right now!

    Oops! I'm gonna need a whole new sig!

    by sillia on Wed Sep 09, 2009 at 08:36:24 AM PDT

    •  I was astounded at just how sedentary I was! (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Wee Mama, Clio2, Edward Spurlock

      I had some days when I was actually under 1,000 steps, and a lot of them where I was under 2,500.  I'm not up to an average of 10,000 per day, but I'm above that a few days per week now, and it would be more if some of my biking was changed to the same caloric expenditure by walking.

      •  You get 'credit' for the biking, LOL! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Wee Mama

        In order to keep myself honest I actually have to write my steps down on a chart, so that I can look back and SEE how little I've been doing. It does help motivate me. If I do other exercise (like bike, weights) I write that in too. My husband and I are both professionally deskbound, with reading/writing as our main source of entertainment, so if we don't work hard at the motivation we gradually slide back into not moving enough.

        I feel a thousand times better when I'm fit, but it goes against the grain to get there.

        Oops! I'm gonna need a whole new sig!

        by sillia on Wed Sep 09, 2009 at 01:36:47 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I have done my exercise for today. (5+ / 0-)

      I dropped a 50' holly tree that was always causing a clean up mess on my hosta and other plants under its canopy. Once down, the toughest part is limbing a holly and dragging them back to a burn pile about 200 ft away. Cut the main trunk into 20-25 pieces and hauled them near the driveway in front of the house so that a neighbor who needs firewood can claim it. It took about 2-2.5 hours including clean up of small debris and stacking the wood. Probably expended close to 500 calories.

  •  aaah, exercise! (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RunawayRose, Wee Mama, Clio2, cdkipp

    I was afraid this was gonna be a "they're right! exercise is stupid!" diary, happy to see it wasn't. I've lost a bunch of weight, and now I'm actually GAINING some - in muscle. I started lifting, and it's my answer to everything. Any other ladies reading this, I can't rec it more. I have strength now, my body is looking better and better, I can run across the street when the light is blinking and not even take a deep breath, and best of all, it gets rid of those "wings" under the arms that we all get, LOL. When I found out about lifting and HIIT and realized I didn't have to do cardio for 5 hours at a time to get in shape, ooh that was a happy time for my lazy nerd ass (which is also looking better thanks to the squats).

    I have no problem with the whole NEAT thing, but ever since that garbage TIME article, I've been wondering - how many hoops will Americans jump through to excuse themselves from taking responsibility for eating crap? The whole "exercise made me eat those Krispy Kremes" basis of the TIME thing really ticked me off.

    Not everyone has the same situations/reasons for things, obviously, but the amount of "it's not MY fault, the cheetos jumped in my mouth" excuse-making I hear from people is just sad.

    BTW, when I first clicked on this, because of your last name, for half a second I thought you were the Super Size Me guy, but I didn't hold it against you ;)

    •  Yeah, it's the headline usual... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Wee Mama, cdkipp

      Some people who exercise just eat more afterwards, therefore exercise won't help you lose weight...the headline writer tells us. True, if that's all we do to control our weight!

      And from that people will jump to the perennially recurring illusion that "You're already getting enough exercise from doing housework or yard work" which also has been proven over and over to be a crock.

      I try to make sure I spend 1/2 hour to 45 minutes at an aerobic level daily. It makes a vast difference to how I feel and can help control my weight -- when combined with mild calorie restriction -- because I certainly don't confuse that activity with permission to gobble a Hamdog afterwards. :-)

      A ham dog is a hotdog that is wrapped in ground beef then deep fried. They then place it on a hoagie roll, top it with chilli, grilled onions, and a fried egg.

      •  So true. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Wee Mama, Clio2

        Thing is, there's nothing wrong with eating after exercise, just HAVE SOME SENSE! If you burn 100 calories, don't eat 700 and think you're even - your butt is not agreeing to these "oh, I did something good, I deserve cheesecake!" negotiations you make in your head, people, it's still gonna get fat!

        I always stop at the convenience store by my gym on the way home cause I get hungry after lifting, but I spend like forever checking labels looking for the lowest calorie/highest protein ratio :) It's actually fun for me, reminds me of when I played RPG video games all the time and spent forever in the menus comparing the best stat-boosting armors and crap, LOL. Think of it like that and calorie-counting is fun!

        Has there ever been a study about overeating and money handling skills? I wonder if there's any overlap, since calories are kind of like a "budget" as well, in a way.

        Oh god that hamdog sounds good, LOL. And at least it'd have a lot of protein...and a lot of everything else too, haha. I think it's fine to cheat every once in a while, but when every meal turns into a cheat meal, it's not even a treat anymore. If you're just shoving crap into your mouth you might as well eat better.

        •  I really like your video game analogy (0+ / 0-)

          and think it could be a way to hook people, especially kids, on label reading.

          Just imagine if someday you could just enter what ever you eat (by name) into your Blackberry or whatever and it would show a cool-looking display with a running tally of how you were doing with your eating plan, whatever that might be! And if you meet your goal, would pop up with some kind of reward bells and whistles the next morning.

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