So, you think an everyday walk of the dog and weekend bike rides are enough to maintain the healthy look and feeling you want? Well, you’re somewhat right. The importance of non-structured exercise is important to our overall calorie expenditure and our ability to maintain or improve our overall health. We all know that a sedentary lifestyle can be detrimental. We also often overestimate how active we are, since much of our day involves sitting. We drive to and from work each day, sit at a computer while working, catch up on social media or texts while on a break and finish our day by watching our favorite show on TV. We also live a lifestyle of convenience, that includes drive thru restaurants, bank machines and pharmacies and may even find ourselves driving around for the closest parking spot.
Here’s the thing, there’s even more to this than what you think. As much Hal and Joanne have told us for years about active lifestyles, we now know that while everyday activity is great, our bodies simply need more. To understand the context of where everyday activity sits in the spectrum of energy burn, let us introduce 4 states of energy burn that can be obtained:
State 1 – NEAT
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) is the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise. It ranges from the energy expended walking to work, typing, performing yard work, undertaking agricultural tasks and fidgeting.
This daily movement will play a role in our overall energy expenditure (how many calories we burn), however it won’t necessarily have enough of an impact to see changes in your body composition or fitness level. Unless we are trying to increase our NEAT daily, our body will have adapted to our current level of movement.
State 2 – High Intensity Exercise
High-intensity exercise could be considered to be anything above the normal everyday level of exertion. Essentially, this feels like you are out of breath, your body starts to fatigue, and your heart is pumping at a rate higher than normal.
During this type of exercise, you will burn calories at a rate that is 2-4 times faster than during NEAT. In addition, accelerating your heart rate and breathing has numerous other health benefits including strengthening organs like your heart and lungs, increasing blood flow, and releasing essential hormones that help drive normal bodily functions. It is recommended that people should endeavour to achieve a minimum of 15 minutes of this type of activity 3-4 times per week.
State 3 – Resting Metabolic Rate and EPOC
Have you heard that your body is more effective at burning calories after an exercise session? The “after burn” effect is like how a car’s engine remains warm after being turned off, once a workout is over and you’re back in your daily routine, your body’s metabolism can continue to burn more calories than when at complete rest. This is called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC, which is the amount of oxygen required to restore your body to its normal, resting level of metabolic function.
If you’re able to obtain a heart rate of 85% of max for more than 12 minutes, your resting metabolic rate will increase to the degree where you can burn fat calories at a 30% higher rate for up to 36 hours after the workout. Essentially, this is your body using excess calories to get back to a normal state of function. By achieving EPOC you throw your body into cardio afterburn.
State 4 – Progressive Overload and Increases to Lean Body Mass
Any type of resistance training that includes muscle overload is likely to result in gains to your lean body mass. Lean body mass is defined as: the amount of weight you carry on your body that isn’t fat. Much of your gains to LBM occur in increases to muscle. Muscle is a funny thing though – the more of it you have the more calories are required to maintain it. What that means, essentially, is that the more muscle you carry on your body the more calories you burn at rest.
For this reason, including resistance training 3-5 times a week is necessary to maintain a higher metabolic rate at rest.
Ultimately, for a change in body composition to occur (i.e. muscle gain or fat loss), we need to play a numbers game.
Consuming more calories than you burn = weight gain (fat and/or muscle)
Burning more calories than you consume = weight loss
To successfully achieve this the human body needs more than just State 1 NEAT energy consumption. While you should never discredit your daily movement efforts, it will not be enough to see favorable changes to your aesthetics and overall health. To see true changes, we need to initiate levels 2-4 energy burning states. That’s why we recommend working with a fitness professional to help design a fitness and nutrition program that allows you to accomplish all 4 of these levels.