A Mayo Clinic researcher has identified exactly what is causing people to gain so much weight, even though our eating habits haven’t changed a lick in decades. So what’s behind our expanding waistlines? It’s called “sitting disease” – and it’s entirely preventable.
As we explored in our book Small Choices, Big Bodies, the most drastic change in the American caloric equation has been on the side of physical activity. As a society, we’re eating the same stuff but moving a lot less. The remote control, the car wash, the dishwasher – all those modern conveniences mean we burn fewer calories per day than our grandparents did. And that imbalance has translated into excess poundage around the middle.
As Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic told USA Today this morning, the problem comes down to a decline in “non-exercise activity thermogenesis,” or NEAT. Non-exercise activities include household chores like folding laundry or mowing the lawn, and simple substitutions such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator. None of those activities requires a gym membership, but all of them burn calories. And if we fail to do them, says Levine, we’re being robbed of the chance to burn an extra 1,500 to 2,400 calories per day.
So how can we take advantage of this form of exercise? Levine advises:

Simple examples include a quick walk around the block before your morning shower; a 30-minute walk at lunch; having a couple of walk-and-talk meetings during the day (research shows you’ll think better); pacing when you’re talking on the phone; taking a 15-minute catch-up walk after work with your partner; walking with your children and listening to their music with them; doing some active volunteering such as taking a stressed mom’s children out for a walk or bringing a meal to an elderly person.

Simple, right? And isn’t that far more pleasurable than avoiding whatever foods the meal police have vilified this week?