Thursday, 11 November 2010

The E Word

Anyone who has ever even thought of losing weight has heard of the energy equation: energy in must be less than energy out. I'd like to take a little look at the second part of the equation.

Many people, when they think about upping their energy expenditure smack straight into a wall labelled EXERCISE!  Personally, I really enjoy exercise and can attest to its mood-improving benefits as well as its contribution to weight loss. Still, I completely empathize with people who can think of nothing worse.

For one thing, I too shudder at the idea of going to a gym. Loud, bad music, too many mirrors, lots of men potentially staring at me while I'm hot and sweaty, as well as seeing myself in that state from every conceivable unflattering angle (see comment on mirrors), not to mention the smell of sweat!  All these things make going to a gym a distinctly unappealing prospect.  Jogging is no better: hard on the knees (well, the whole skeleton really, but that's where I always feel it first), having to brave the weather, and out in public, I tried it twice before saying "Never again!"

However, there are several things most people don't know about their energy burning which I'd like to share here.

Firstly, two thirds of the energy you burn is due to just staying alive, breathing, even sleeping.  The second most important factor in burning energy is eating itself!  In particular the heat you kick out when you eat regularly.  Eating little and often not only stops your body feeling like it's starving by maintaining a stable blood sugar level, it also burns more energy as you keep yourself constantly warm.

Thirdly, comes the energy used in activity. Note, I didn't say the E word :-b Think about a common way of life these days. You get out of bed and sit down for breakfast. Then you sit in your car or on some kind of transport that takes you to sit at work, with perhaps a break to sit down to lunch. You go home and sit watching TV or surfing, then you go to bed.  Sit, sit, sit!

Recent studies show that people would burn 7lbs worth of weight if they just had to get up to change the channel rather than using the remote! Even if you do a half hours exercise a few days a week, if the rest of the time you just sit you will be classified as an "active couch potato".

Small changes make a huge difference in the long run.  The idea of parking your car a little further from where you're going, getting off a stop early if you're on a bus, train or tram, taking the stairs rather than the elevator, are all really worthwhile.  But if those feel impracticable or just a drag, what about simply starting with getting up and walking about the room you're in for a minute, every half hour?  Even this small amount of activity breaks the sedentary cycle, and will make a real difference.  After you've done that for a while, one of the other activities might seem more appealing.

With all types of activity, take it slow.  If you half kill yourself the first day, your motivation to try again a couple of days later will be very low.  Also, think about trying different things.  If you don't like going to the gym, what about a yoga class in a local community centre?  Or getting a DVD to try at home?  If you don't like a particular style of exercise, or a particular teacher, try another.  If you don't like jogging, what about getting on a stationary bike?

If all that sounds like too much work, what about getting a dog?  Sound stupid?  It's been shown that getting a dog is a great way to lose weight, as it encourages you to go out for a walk every day (that or get slobbered on, barked and panted at, and subjected to mournful stares until you do).

Any kind of physical activity will improve your body's ability to burn fat, will build up your strength and stamina, and will help lift your mood.  Well, at least biochemically.  Jogging in the city, breathing fumes, harassed by street vendors and almost getting run over by a cab may cancel out any endorphin benefits ;-D

Image: Youth of Coins from the Gay Tarot.


  1. Lol, guess that explains alot. When at home, I'm up and down most of the day. Which isn't a good thing, writer wise, but I guess it keeps me slim, well mostly. Got some love handles, but who doesn't right? Now if I could just figure out a way to remove those things.

    Great post.

  2. Some really good, practical ideas there Chloe...something that everyone can do at no extra expense and very little extra time - simply move about more.

  3. Hi Cher, yep, your teachers might have told you to sit still and not fidget, but actually it's got a positive side in terms of keeping your metabolism active! As for it disturbing your writing, studies say that it's not realistic to concentrate for long periods anyhow. So getting up and doing something might actually stop you getting bored and distracted - you do something and then get right back into it :-)

    Hi Lori, glad you think some of the ideas are practical. I know some companies (especially in big cities) don't like their employees to leave their computer, but if you can it's definitely positive in terms of overall health and weight.