I know a lot of people who don’t bother trying to get much physical activity because they think if the don’t exercise at the gym for an hour there’s no point. But as a Weighthacker you know that things like NEAT movements and even light activities like pacing while you talk on the phone all add up.
New research from the University of Utah now confirms that literally every single minute of activity you do can help you lose weight and get fit, even if you only do it one minute at a time:
Every minute of movement counts toward the 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity we’re all supposed to be getting each week. University of Utah researchers found that each minute spent engaging in some kind of moderate to vigorous physical activity was associated with lower BMI and lower weight.
The takeaway here is that doing something — anything — instead of nothing can help you. Park your car further away from the entrance at work or when you go shopping so you’ll walk a bit more. Take the stairs instead of the escalator, or walk down the platform and back while you’re waiting for the subway.
The minutes may not seem like much when you’re doing them, but science has proven that they all add up over time.
Good news Weighthackers! You already know that fidgeting more can help you lose weight, but now new research out of Oregon State University says that simple things like doing chores and taking the stairs instead of the escalator can be just as beneficial to you as going to the gym. The study looked at 6,000 people nationwide and found that even activities that take only a minute or two count toward your health as long as you end up being active for at least 30 minutes in total by the end of the day.
“Our results suggest that engaging in an active lifestyle approach, compared to a structured exercise approach, may be just as beneficial in improving various health outcomes,” said Paul Loprinzi, lead author of the study. “We encourage people to seek out opportunities to be active when the choice is available. For example, rather than sitting while talking on the phone, use this opportunity to get in some activity by pacing around while talking.”
People who did so-called “short bout” movements improved their blood pressure, cholesterol and waist circumference, and were less at risk for developing metabolic syndrome (which is basically a slew of health-related problems that overweight people experience). The study also suggests that incorporating short bout movement might be more beneficial than going to the gym in the long run since it’s easier to fit into your existing lifestyle and doesn’t cost anything, so you’re more likely to keep at it.
If this sounds like something you want to do, I suggest getting a movement tracker like one of the ones in this list to help you out. Knowing how much you move each day can help you see if you need to add something new to your routine (like parking further away from the entrance to your job so you walk more) to get more activity in, and it can also inspire you to reach specific goals. For instance, thanks to my Fitbit I know today is my 151st day in a row of walking 10,000 steps or more, which makes me more likely to take 10,000 steps again tomorrow.
Okay Weighthackers, here’s some more good news about exercise: Not only does it help you lose weight and tone up (i.e. look better), it can make you less hungry too. This new finding comes from a study done last year at the University of Wyoming, which showed that exercise actually changes the way your body reacts to food.
Here’s how it works. Normally a hormone called ghrelin is one of the things in your body that stimulates hunger. When you workout, your body actually makes more ghrelin, which should in turn make you hungrier.
But the researchers up in Wyoming found that exercise also stimulates the production of hormones that make you feel satiated. According to The New York Times:
These hormones, only recently discovered and still not well understood, tell the body that it has taken in enough fuel; it can stop eating. The augmented levels of the satiety hormones, the authors write, “muted” the message from ghrelin.
But wait, the news gets better. The Times said another study done in December confirms that moderate exercise helps regulate hunger. “It found that after 12 weeks, formerly sedentary, overweight men and women began recognizing, without consciously knowing it, that they should not overeat.”
This jibes (yes, I used the word jibes) with my own experience, where I found that after I started being more active each day, my hunger went down, as did the amount of food I ate when I was hungry. The only trick though is that it takes 3 months of steady effort for the effect to kick in. So, get started!
Fundamentally, being overweight is the result of an energy imbalance in your system. When your body takes in energy by eating, it can only do two things with it: 1) Burn it as fuel 2) Store it as fat. So if you take in more energy than you burn off, you’ll increase the amount of fat you store.
Most people typically talk about taking in less energy when they want to lose weight (i.e. eating less), which makes sense. To burn off all the excess fat, you have to put your body into an energy deficit, either by cutting back on food, increasing the amount you move (i.e. exercise) or a combination of both.
Researcher James O. Hill, PhD. at the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center suggests we’ve overemphasized the “eating less” part and need to make sure we’re attacking weight loss in a balanced manner if we want to succeed:
“A healthy body weight is best maintained with a higher level of physical activity than is typical today and with an energy intake that matches. We are not going to reduce obesity by focusing only on reducing food intake. Without increasing physical activity in the population we are simply promoting unsustainable levels of food restriction. This strategy hasn’t worked so far and it is not likely to work in the future. What we are really talking about is changing the message from ‘Eat Less, Move More’ to ‘Move More, Eat Smarter.'”
According to Medical News Today:
People who have a low level of physical activity have trouble achieving energy balance because they must constantly use food restriction to match energy intake to a low level of energy expenditure. Constant food restriction is difficult to maintain long-term and when it cannot be maintained, the result is positive energy balance (when the calories consumed are greater than the calories expended) and an increase in body mass, of which 60 percent to 80 percent is usually body fat. The increasing body mass elevates energy expenditure and helps reestablish energy balance. In fact, the researchers speculate that becoming obese may be the only way to achieve energy balance when living a sedentary lifestyle in a food-abundant environment.
As a weighthacker I know that moving more is an integral part of losing weight, which is why I’ve done things like switching to a treadmill desk so I can get my body moving while still doing the things I love, like surfing the Web and blogging.
When I decided to really* lose weight, I started by looking at all the things I knew I should already be doing but wasn’t. One of those things was exercise. When I was motivated, I could get myself to the gym 5 days a week. But I couldn’t sustain it. Pretty soon I’d be down to 1 day a week. Or 1 day a month. Or never.
So rather than beating myself up about it (my previous approach), this time I asked myself why I didn’t go more often? I mean, I was always happy to have gone to the gym. And I felt great when I did go. Then there’s all that pesky research that shows how exercise helps you lose weight, feel better, live longer, etc. There’s really no downside to it.
Except I hate it.
Okay, so why? For me, there were three main factors: 1) It’s inconvenient to go to a gym 2) I didn’t have time for it** 3) It’s B-O-R-I-N-G.
Being a reasonably smart geek, I decided that if I put my mind to it, I should be able to solve these problems. I figured out the solution 1) Needed to bring the gym to Craig instead of bringing Craig to the gym 2) Had to combine whatever this home gym activity would be with something else I was already doing 3) Had to be entertaining.
Since I spend approximately 1,000 hours a day on a computer, that seemed the most likely idea. I did briefly consider focusing my efforts on the TV, but since I work in the TV business I tend not to watch too much at home. And I can watch TV on the computer via Netflix, Hulu and those kinds of things, so the computer would be a two-for-one deal.
Once I decided that my home gym activity had to be built around using the computer, I looked at either using a stationary bike or a treadmill. Both had their pluses and minuses, but I thought walking would be easier. Plus I make sure to walk 10,000 steps a day, so a treadmill would fit in with an activity I was already working on.
If you do some Googling, you’ll find ways to make a treadmill desk for $39 and treadmill desks that cost more than $4,000. I worried that if i tried to do it myself, the project would get bogged down forever in some halfway-completed state, so that wasn’t an option. But I’m too much of a cheapinsky to spend $4,000 on a desk if I don’t have to.
I settled for something in the middle of the price range and only partly DIY. I bought a tread from TreadDesk, which was a steep $840 with another $150 for shipping. I bought a small GeekDesk frame for $525, which let’s me move the desk from a standing to a sitting position. And I found a local woodworker, Benton Custom, to make a custom wood top for me. That was just over $1,000, which frankly was a lot more than I intended to spend.
justified reasoned that if I spent invested that much money on a desk, I’d be more inclined to use it. And by making it really, really nice, I’d be doubly more inclined. You can see the end result in the pictures, and I absolutely love it.
I use the desk constantly, and far more than I thought I would. I started out with a goal of exercising on it 3 days a week, but I usually end up doing 5-7 days. I figured I’d walk for 30-60 minutes at a pace of 1-2mph, and instead I’m on it 45-90 minutes at 3-3.5mph. My goal of 10,000 steps a day often ends up turning into 15,000-20,000. And I’m never B-O-R-E-D!
The best part about using my treadmill desk is that it never feels like a chore, and it never feels like exercise. Most days I’ll get on and a half hour whizzes by before I’m done checking and e-mail and twitter. (You can follow me at @weighthacker and @craigengler by the way.) If I end up on a Reddit or BuzzFeed spree, it will all but guarantee a 60-minute or longer session.
Yes, it was hellishly expensive, but there are ways to do it pretty cheaply. And let’s be honest, I’ve probably spent more than that on unused gym memberships, and at least this actually works.
* By “really” I mean, I focused my time and resources on losing weight, I didn’t just go for a quick fix or a fad diet. I realized to lose weight I had to permanently change my life, not just hope I could magically drop all my extra pounds with some temporary change and then go back to the same way I’d be doing things.
**How did I ever “not have the time” to be healthy?!? What convenience is worth being overweight, being more likely to have chronic health problems and having a shortened life span?
Also check out: 11 gadgets that can help any geek lose weight
In Weighthacker’s roundup of 11 Gadgets That Can Help Any Geek Lose Weight I deliberately left off the iPad, not because it’s a bad weight loss gadget, but because it’s an awesome one. You can do so much with an iPad in terms of health and nutrition that it deserves its own entry.
Here are 7 ways I’ve been using my iPad to help me lose weight and get fit. I think you’ll find at least a few things here that can help you too. It you’ve found other ways your iPad can help lose weight, please let me know in the comments.
Note to Android and other tablet owners: A lot of these things can be done on your devices too. If you’re using a different tablet to help you lose weight, please leave examples of how in the comments to help out other geeks.
1. Track What You Eat
Keeping tabs on what you’re eating throughout the day helps you eat better and eat less, but it can also be a pain. So check out food tracking apps like MyFitnessPal, which is the reigning king of the genre. Most of them have pre-populated databases of different foods and their nutritional breakdown, so you don’t have to mess around with entering any of that data yourself. And a lot of the apps are based on existing Web-based tracking services, allowing you to effortlessly sync data between the two. Some even come with a barcode scanner for food labels.
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A new study from Northwestern University discovered a phenomenon researchers are calling Enclothed Cognition, which is “the systematic influence that clothes have on the wearer’s psychological processes.” In other words, you are (or at least you’ll act like) what you wear.
Here’s the abstract of the study that explains their results:
In Experiment 1, physically wearing a lab coat increased selective attention compared to not wearing a lab coat. In Experiments 2 and 3, wearing a lab coat described as a doctor’s coat increased sustained attention compared to wearing a lab coat described as a painter’s coat, and compared to simply seeing or even identifying with a lab coat described as a doctor’s coat. Thus, the current research suggests a basic principle of enclothed cognition—it depends on both the symbolic meaning and the physical experience of wearing the clothes.
I’ve been using enclothed cognition to help me get more exercise, and it works surprisingly well. For instance, I started wearing sneakers on my commute to work, and whenever I have them on, I find myself getting off a few subway stops earlier than usual and walking part of the way. The interesting thing is, my shoes are perfectly comfortable to walk in and give me great support, so that’s not why I don’t walk more in them. It’s just that they don’t feel “sneakery” to me. Wearing sneakers seems to signal my brain and body that I’m going to move more. And I do.
When I’m feeling particularly unmotivated to go to the gym, I use a trick I read about a few years ago that I realize now is probably enclothed cognition: I put my gym clothes on. I don’t put them on with the specific intent to go to the gym, and mentally I tell myself I can take them off without going to the gym if I want. But every time I’ve ever done it, I’ve ended up at the gym because putting the clothes on just switches me into gym mode. Now I know why.