James Brown couldn’t make his mind up whether to get on up or get on down – luckily, we can only accept his first answer. Training hard is great but I think that we all underestimate the importance of being physically active in our day-to-day lives. Healthy lifestyle is just that, a lifestyle.
Let’s start off by taking a quick look at energy expenditure.
There are three different categories by which we may classify energy expenditure:
- Basal metabolic rate (BMR) – BMR accounts for roughly 60% of expenditure for Mr Average. The key determinant of BMR is lean muscle mass, this is why it’s crucial to at least preserve, if not gain, muscle if looking to shift body fat (notice that I didn’t use the ‘D-word’ there!).
- Thermic effect of food – Digesting food requires energy and this generally contributes to about 10-15% of total expenditure. It takes more energy to digest protein than carbohydrates or fats so decent proportions of protein at each meal are a good idea, especially as protein will also help maintain/gain muscle mass.
- Physical activity – Physical activity is by far the most variant of all three factors as it’s the one we have the greatest control over. Expenditure through activity can account for as little as 15% or so in sedentary individuals and in excess of 50% for those with an active lifestyle.
Types of physical activity
We can break the physical activity category down one stage further:
- Exercise physical activity – This is what most people would probably think of when physical activity is mentioned. Here, were talking about expenditure resulting from structured and planned physical activity. The majority of gym-goers and recreational athletes tend to overestimate the amount of energy used as a consequence of exercise. Unless you’re training multiple times per day, the next category is probably of more importance to energy expenditure.
- Non-exercise physical activity (NEPA)– NEPA constitutes the energy required to do anything beyond keeping your organs ticking over on keeping you on standby. This can be as low level as sitting in a chair or as physically demanding as working on a building site. NEPA is so important as it will fill about two thirds of your day.
NEPA and health
Aside from the positive effects of improving body composition, increasing NEPA can have a substantial impact on many markers of health. Perhaps most notably, periods of inactivity have been shown to impair insulin action but that such impairments can be offset by incorporating breaks of low-intensity activity such as walking. If you can’t avoid spending prolonged periods of the day sitting down then make a conscious effort to get up and walk about at regular intervals, say every half hour or so. Getting some NEPA before eating is a great idea in particular due to such insulin aiding effects.
NEPA and posture
How much time do we spend hunched over a computer during the day or slouched in front of the telly in the evening? Over time this breeds a whole host of mobility problems such as hamstring tightness and upper back weakness. Once again, be sure to break up any periods of prolonged inactivity. Getting up on your feet can help get some of those lazy muscle groups waking up and reset your body to a more natural, healthy posture. Including a couple of stretches or bodyweight exercises would also be a great idea; I always keep a foam roller, kettlebell and resistance band under my desk to help break up any research or writing sessions.
NEPA for size and strength
Much of the focus thus far has lent itself toward losing fat mass and improving health, however, NEPA can also be a big factor in getting big and getting strong. This is most obvious when you consider an individual’s occupation; it’s no coincidence that many strongmen and powerlifters come from a manual labouring background. Incorporating more low to moderate intensity activity essentially allows you to increase ‘training’ volume in a pretty sustainable manner if you do it correctly, just be gradual with increases activity and frequency.
Hopefully this article has given you a quick insight into why NEPA is so important, although chances are that you read this sitting down. If so, get on up right now! Your body will thank you for it!