by Marie-France Hivert, MD

Is it better to go for a run after work or to be walking all day at work? Well, it depends what benefits we want to get out of it. If you’re preparing for your next race, walking around in the office is not likely to help you much. But walking, standing, and simply moving around might be more important for maintaining health.
All energy expenditure from ‘non-structured’ activities that are above our resting status is called ‘non-exercise activity thermogenesis’ – or NEAT.

It turns out that if we consider the daily or weekly amount of energy we spend for living, NEAT leads to much higher energy expenditure than actually exercising. As this figure shows, someone who is a bicycling courier or working on a farm would probable be classified as having a high NEAT, while someone who sits all day at work, drives most of the time, and watches TV at night would be in the low NEAT category. Being high NEAT leads to much more weekly activity than being low NEAT, even if the low NEAT person does a ton of exercise. Scary when we think about the fact that most of us are sitting long hours for our daily jobs.

And the amount of time we spend being sedentary is not only part of the energy expenditure equation. In a recent meta-analysis, greater sedentary time was associated with higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. Being sedentary is also associated with higher mortality from any cause or from cancer or cardiovascular diseases.

Canadian guidelines recommend limiting recreational screen time (TV or computer or videos) to no more than 2h per day for youths 5 to 17 years old and no more than 1h per day for children 2-4 years old. The American College of Sport Medicine recommends limiting sedentary behaviors and avoiding sitting for long periods, without recommending exact time restriction. So, it’s time for all of us to stop sitting still. We may live longer and healthier.



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