Exercise more and eat less - It's easy they say.
Anyone would think that exercise is the best way to burn extra calories and lose weight, but planned exercise sessions only play a very small part in the total amount of calories used by your body each day.
Take a really close look at the pie chart in the image below.
This pie chart represents the ways your body uses calories in a day. As you can see, your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) - ie the number of calories that your body needs just to exist - is the biggest portion of the calories that you need each day at a whopping 70%!
The next biggest portion comes from 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 gardening or housework, caring for family and fidgeting. NEAT contributes 15% to your daily calorie expenditure.
Then we have TEF - Thermal Effect of Food
TEF is the amount of energy (calories) used by your body to digest and process food. Amazingly this uses 10% of the total calories needed each day. What you eat can influence TEF in small ways. Adding more protein and fibre filled foods like fruit and vegetables is known to boost TEF slightly each day because it takes more energy to digest these foods. Another reason for adding more of these foods to your diet.
Lastly, we have EAT - Exercise Associated Thermogenesis
EAT - represents the percentage of calories used in a day to perform planned exercise or sport. This portion comes in at the lower end offering only a 5% contribution to total daily energy expenditure. Increasing purposeful exercise has its place, but it can also increase appetite, making it harder to cut calories for weight loss. Exercising more for weight loss may in fact be taking more than it is giving, leaving you tired and burned out unable to shift that stubborn belly fat.
What does this mean for you and weight loss?
Firstly, we all need to exercise. It is good for our heart, organs, brain, muscle mass, mental health, sense of self etc. What we do need to realise though is that exercise as a way to burn calories is only a very small part of the picture when it comes to weight loss. Seeing as planned exercise only contributes 5% to our calorie expenditure, we must find other ways to influence how many calories our body uses outside of our planned exercise sessions.
"The more muscle tissue we have in our body, the higher our BMR, the more calories we burn at rest".
This is where NEAT becomes your best friend.
This is the movement that we do every day going about our daily activities of life. This is where you really can influence how many calories you burn each day. It may seem insignificant on the surface, but getting up from your desk every hour and completing 200 steps is a really great way to influence your waistline. Walk further to the bus stop, park further from work, go for an evening walk instead of watching TV, hang the washing on the line instead of putting it in the dryer. Fidgety people are often leaner than their more relaxed counterparts for this very reason. Get up and move more throughout your day, it all adds up to greater use of the calories you are storing as body fat.
What about BMR, can we increase this too?
I am so glad you asked. Our Basal Metabolic Rate - BMR - is influenced by the amount of ‘active’ tissue we have in our body. Active tissue is tissue such as your heart, brain, muscles and bones that require energy just to exist. We cannot influence our bones and organs, but we can influence our muscle tissue. The more muscle tissue we have in our body, the higher our BMR, the more calories we burn at rest. This is why lifting heavy things and working on strength is SO important all through life, but especially at midlife for women.
Midlife is a time in life where women begin to lose more muscle mass. Muscle loss is a part of the aging process (which we can influence with strength training) accelerated by losing estrogen in the perimenopause & menopause years. Women MUST work on building muscle if they want to keep their BMR working to their advantage. As we lose muscle and see our BMR diminishing, women often start to see an increase in total fat mass, decreases in insulin sensitivity and potentially increases in visceral fat. This is what we want and need to avoid for the sake of our overall health.
The moral of this story
Lift heavy stuff and make time to recover with more low-level movement that will influence how many calories you use during the day. Stop thinking that hours of cardio alone is what's going to help you lose weight and spend that time working on the other important factors that can support the process, like increasing NEAT & BMR.
Melanie Briony is a fitness and lifestyle coach who supports midlife women (over 40) as they move into the peri and post-menopause years. This is a huge time of change for a woman's body, nothing is as it used to be. The restrictive diets and hard exercise regimes that worked in your 30s just won’t cut it anymore. Melanie is here to show you how your changing hormones are impacting on your body and what you can do to take back the reins and bring about positive change. At midlife, a woman has to learn how to work ‘with’ her body. This includes - managing stress, eating the right foods at the right time, sleeping longer, saying no more often and taking back her power. “You are not about to disappear into the mist of old age, you have the strength and courage to move through this transition and come out the other side as a stronger and wiser version of you”. Contact Melanie to find out more about how she can support you.