Outside of exercise the most variable aspect of caloric expenditure is spontaneous movement.
This term refers to any movement that takes place outside of the exercise window. It includes everything, from twiddling your thumbs to how frequently (and how fast) you run to the bathroom.
The effect of spontaneous movement can range from 100-800 calories a day. When you consider the amount of work you’d have to perform to equate to the upper levels (60-75 minutes of very intense exercise), you can see how significant this can be.
Current research indicates that spontaneous movement is largely determined by genetics, which is somewhat disheartening. However, this research is far from complete. Some researchers have successfully manipulated neural mediators, such as orexin, to produce an increase in spontaneous movement. But the real question remains as to whether there’s anything we can do on a practical level to manipulate this factor.
There is no greater disincentive to doing something than for it to hurt. In other words, chronic pain is essentially the same as hooking an electrode up to your lower-back (or knees or neck or whatever causes you pain) and shocking yourself every time you start to move.
If you are not currently involved in an exercise program, this is a great time to pursue therapy (whether it comes from physio, chiro, massage or any other modality). You will find that the better you feel about movement, the more willing you are to increase the amount of movement in your life.
If you are currently involved in an exercise program, make sure it’s not buggering you up. Short-term gains mean very little if you blow a disk or tear an ACL along the way.
Change Your Work Environment
The simple fact is that some work environments are more conducive to spontaneous movement than others. Where is your desk in relation to the bathroom or meeting room? Do you feel free to stand and stretch out?
You don’t have to quit your job if your current environment doesn’t encourage activity. You should, however, ask yourself how you can manipulate some of the minor things in a way that will allow and encourage you to move more freely.
Some simple suggestions include setting an Outlook reminder for you to stand up every 10–15 minutes, using the furthest possible bathroom, manually delivering all messages to your coworkers and working on your computer from a standing position for at least 30 minutes a day.
Develop Quality Movement
If you can’t perform fundamental movements, such as squats or lunges (we’re talking about unloaded movement patterns, not putting 1,000 lbs. on the bar), find a way to learn them. This extends to the simple stuff too, such as walking and even breathing.
Find the Joy in Movement
This isn’t something you have to tell young children. They run, jump, squat, climb and hang out of the sheer joy of exploration. If you don’t remember what it’s like to feel that way, start exploring a bit more yourself.
You may prefer to find something more structured, such as yoga or a martial art. However, what you should find is something that is interesting enough that you begin to think about (and integrate) it into your daily life.
Nothing breeds enjoyment like competency. If you feel good about picking stuff up, moving it around and generally being the first line of defence in a zombie attack, you will be more likely to move.
Remember what Starting Strength author Mark Rippetoe says, “Strong people are less likely to die than weak people – and are more useful in general.”
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