I’m thankful that so many of you are already exercising and improving your overall fitness, there are still so many of our friends and family that have the awareness of fitness instilled, yet not practiced.

My team and I are constantly professing the importance of ‘movement’ and exercise simply because it helps maintain a stronger more efficient heart, helps reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes, gives us stronger muscles and bones, reduces cholesterol levels and improves mental health. This is what we set out to do when I co-founded AsiaFitnessToday. If we could get people to just start being aware first, then naturally they will start to move and soon enough, they will have fitness instilled in their minds.

Exercise as an impetus for weight loss

Some individuals believe that just two to three workouts a week will magically shed unwanted kilos from their bodies. Unfortunately these same individuals then become frustrated when it does not happen. Although exercise is vital to our overall quality of life, it is important to understand how exercise impacts weight loss, especially for those just starting a weight loss program.

In a week, we need to burn 2,000 calories through physical activity in order to lose weight! So, unless your plan involves numerous high-intensity exercise sessions each week, it is unlikely that you’ll achieve your weight loss goals through exercise alone.

Does dieting actually help us lose weight?

When we start to reduce our normal daily caloric intake by more than 30% (for example cutting back from 2,200 daily calories to less than 1,540 calories), we start to consciously feel deprived of food and choices, which frequently results in failure to stick to diet programs for sustained periods of time. Reductions of approximately <20% however can usually be implemented without such deprived feelings. That said, I understand our society today is constantly fed with amazing gastronomic photography via social media and tempted by “How-to” cooking programmes on the numerous food channels! Dieting is quite difficult to achieve without proper nutrition guidance. So getting proper advice is a good start!

Dieting is NOT a good way to lose weight

As we age, we lose muscle tissue which reduces our ability to function independently. Research has shown that a woman between the ages of 30 and 70 may lose as much as 23% of her muscle tissue whereas a man may lose up to 21 – 22% of his muscle mass during that same time period. In turn, this loss generally compromises our quality of life, progressively preventing us from doing the things we enjoy or need to do as we get older. Choosing to follow a diet without any activity, movement or exercise plan can certainly lead to initial weight loss, but for every kilogramme lost, only 69% of that kilogramme will originate from fat tissue, whereas the remaining 31% will originate from the loss of muscle tissue, something we should all try to avoid. This skinny fat approach is certainly not a healthy solution.

Tips on the best way to lose the kilos

Cardio activity complements your dietary strategies and can help you lose weight, but again for every kilogram lost, only 78% of that weight will originate from fat tissue, whereas the remaining 22% will originate from muscle tissue.

However, including some form of resistance training (weights, machines, yoga, etc.) on the other hand is the most effective weight loss method as it can preserve almost all your existing muscle as 97 % of the weight loss originates from fat tissue (5), keeping you ‘fit, healthy and functional.’ Furthermore, by preserving or even adding a few kilograms of muscle tissue, you can maintain or even elevate your metabolism which helps you burn additional calories through the day. This number could amount to 100 calories each day, the equivalent to approximately 3 kilograms over the period of one year.

What is N.E.A.T and how does it help us lose weight?

The case presented above makes a strong argument for a comprehensive approach that includes both a dietary and activity plan to achieve weight loss effectively. However, as exercise alone is generally inadequate unless one finds more time in an already busy schedule, what other options are available? Over the past few years, researchers have begun investigating the remaining 110 – 115 hours of the week that we are awake as a weight loss solution, rather than the few hours a week spent trying to exercise. The results are impressive as they provide so many opportunities to achieve effective and sustained weight loss without complicating our lives, finding more time to exercise, doing things we may despise, or even exceeding our own comfort levels or abilities.

We call these expended calories N.E.A.T (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) and it is the energy expended for everything we do that does not include sleeping, eating, or exercise; and ranges from simple things like standing and fidgeting to moving about. For example, a 68 kg. person burns approximately 102 calories an hour while performing their office job in a seated position (1.7 kcal / minute), but burns 174 calories an hour if performing those same office duties while standing. This may not seem like much, but it translates to 18,000 calories or a little over 2.2 kg. over a 50-week work year (250 work days). By comparison, that same person would need to squeeze in 60, 30-minute runs at 8 km/hour to achieve that same caloric burn.

Changing the way we think about weight loss

The goal with this article is to help you rethink the approach to where and how one can burn calories by making the entire day a weight loss “battlefield”. This is the area we can exploit to complement the exercise we want to do, and not feel like we have to do. Sitting all day only welcomes weight gain. So how do we do it then?

Create a list of your general daily activities (e.g., 6:30–7:30 am – preparing for work; 7:30–8:00 am – commuting to work; 8:00–12:30 pm – working at desk, mostly seated activities, etc.).

  • Are you aware of how many hours you spend sitting each day?
  • Compile a list, the contents may just startle you.
  1. Identify problematic areas where you notice time spent in seated positions and think creatively of ways to accomplish these same activities while standing (e.g., texting, talking on the phone).
  2. Challenge yourself to try one to three ideas just once, starting with challenges you feel confident in accomplishing.
  3. Evaluate your experiences, but don’t force things you don’t like. If you enjoyed the experience and feel confident you can do it again. Attempt that same challenge every day for the next week (finite challenge). If not, select new challenges to try.
  4. Evaluate your weekly experience. Again, if you enjoyed the experience and feel confident you can do it for a longer period, attempt that same challenge for two weeks and so on, building towards an infinite or ongoing challenge.

Integrating N.E.A.T into our daily lives

Some simple, initial challenges you could try:

  • Stand more. Start by attempting to stand or move about for 5 to 10-minute increments while you complete various daily activities
  • Wash your car by hand
  • Pace the sidelines at your kids’ athletic games
  • Carry your groceries instead of pushing a cart
  • Walk briskly through the mall
  • Walk to work or use the LRT
  • Take the long way to the water cooler or bathroom at the office
  • Walk to a co-worker’s desk instead of emailing or calling them
  • Pace while talking on the phone

Find ways to integrate standing and moving activities – a little here and there. Remember, every little calorie counts throughout your day; every little victory moves you forward. As little as 100 calories each day translates to approximately 4.5 kgs. lost in a year; 200 calories equals the loss of 9 kgs, without even breaking a sweat. By comparison, 4.5 kgs for a 68 kg. person requires almost 120, 30-minute cardio sessions at 8 km/hour. So, add these N.E.A.T calories to an exercise plan you find manageable and enjoyable, and you’ll enjoy greater success in achieving your weight loss goals.

Article compiled by Nikki Yeo, FMS–certified practitioner and ACE-certified Fitness Trainer.

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