A few weeks ago, I heard Lenny Kravitz present his research at the the annual Can-Fit-Pro conference in Edmonton. I was quite excited by the chance to learn how the sultry retro singer maintains six-pack abs despite being in his late 40s. Imagine my surprise, then, when a white man wearing a bolo tie entered the room to grab the microphone. This Bizarro Lenny was actually quite a hoot, joking and laughing while discussing his recent findings on nutrient timing, the relationship between stress, cortisol and obesity, and metabolic conditioning. The last topic particularly caught my attention and, with Dr. Kravitz’s permission, I present some of his key points here. [Aside: my LSP has a great story about literally bumping into the “real” Lenny Kravitz in a Marais bagel shop in 1994, when we were living in Paris. At the time I was unfortunately in the library, reading about seventeenth-century French vaginas].
Dr. Kravitz explained the principles of NEAT, or Non-Exercise Activity Thermogensis. NEAT is the energy expended for everything unrelated to sleeping, eating, and athletic exercise. It includes motions like blinking or walking to the water fountain in between meetings at work, acts which burn calories, anywhere from 269 to 477 kilocalories each day. When Dr. Kravitz counsels overweight people who wish to lose pounds of fat, he encourages them to add movement to their routine—not necessarily by doing jumping jacks or, God-forbid, something like a musically-themed spin class—-but by taking the stairs instead of the elevator when visiting the dentist, or by walking to the farthest bathroom at a worksite facility instead of using the one right next door. These small changes will make a difference to overall health, according to the research studies published by Dr. Kravitz.
This form of metabolic conditioning cannot replace more strenuous, targeted exercise—resistance training is required to build and maintain muscle mass, and it is necessary to deliberately raise the heartrate by running, spinning, box jumping or what you, in order to improve cardiovascular capacity—but NEAT is nevertheless an excellent and relatively easy way to burn more calories and help keep the body in good working order. So just stand up and walk around a bit more you lazy sod! Sitting is in fact bad for human health, something I learned first-hand this semester when forced to meet various book and article publishing deadlines. Using my computer for hours on end fucked my upper back and shoulders, requiring the intervention of my skillful and slightly disappointed athletic therapist. Read more about the hazards of too much sitting: http://www.drlenkravitz.com/Articles/sitting.html.
To assist his clients in finding ways to add movement to their existing lifestyles, Dr. Kravitz created the template pasted above. It allows users to chart their activities every half hour of the day, highlighting how much time is spent sitting. The focus is on Monday through Friday, because, as Lenny noted during his presentation, most people have some kind of work routine, which is altered on weekends, when they tend to move around more by shopping, doing yard work, or gathering up the recycling. I hope that my delectable readers will try this template and share the results in comments on this post. This template is of no use to me, for I have no routine whatsoever, and no work/life distinction, tending to work more on the weekends and at least 55 hours during an average rather than busy week. On many days I move non-stop, as was the case this past Monday when I ran around the massive University of Alberta campus for various meetings with microbiome scientists, students wishing to pursue graduate school, curators helping me prepare a workshop on prints by Rembrandt and Durer, and colleagues collaborating with me to produce an exhibition and accompanying catalogue. Even when I work at home, I rarely sit still, jumping up regularly to make phone calls, book flights, grade exams, fold laundry, or whip up a preserved lemon and chicken tagine. When I was sitting for longer periods than usual this past winter, I continued to train strenuously for a few hours almost every day and to teach three spin classes per week. Dr. Kravitz will not be surprised to hear that this intermittent exercise was still not enough to counteract my sedentary hunching over a keyboard in the name of scholarship.
For metabolic profiling: http://www.drlenkravitz.com/Articles/movemoresitless.html
I quickly came to adore the well informed and entertaining gentleman presenter at the Can-Fit-Pro conference. When Dr. Kravitz announced that “fidgeters expend an extra 352 kilocalories per day, burning up to 16 kg per year,” it was music to my ears. For when I am not concentrating intently on the history of tapeworms or the human guts, I can barely contain my pulsating energy. I bug the shit out of my LSP by leaping from the couch—on which I spend amazingly little time—to clean, cook, look something up online, or dash to collect the nail polish kit. I have a hard time doing nothing, and do not enjoy watching TV for long stretches; 15-20 minutes is my maximum unless the show is intellectually engaging. Now some people like to be brain dead, for short or longer periods of time. When my good friend Vampira was recently visiting from Australia—she is a hot professional dynamo who did not miss a beat despite enduring a hideously long flight—she recommended a dramatic series called Sons of Anarchy as not very clever or challenging but “mind numbing” and thus “highly entertaining.” Although such down time would likely do me good, I doubt that I will be watching this program anytime soon, unless I contract a debilitating disease or am bitten by a zombie. Now you know why my LSP likes me best when I am sick, injured, or about to get my period (and thus more couch bound). According to legend, many women get bitchy or emotional during their monthlies, but they render me unusually snuggly, with an accompanying desire to eat bread. Lots of bread.
I liked thinking about NEAT as a form of metabolic conditioning for other reasons. This concept links human health with random and potentially “useless” movement, the kind carefully monitored and expunged by the scientific management developed during the late nineteenth century by Frederick Winslow Taylor, among others. Taylorism was designed to direct and contain the movements of workers, especially those performing repetitive chores in factories, thereby improving labour efficiency and the overall economy. In short, Taylorism applied the science of engineering to the body and its environment, treating human beings like machines made up of parts, and eliminating excess movement as a form of waste. According to the research on NEAT, however, this emphasis on workplace efficiency might have been too effective, inhibiting unecessary movements in a way that has undermined health and is at odds with the evolution of the human body. We now need to add inefficiency back into our lifestyles, by taking more bathroom breaks, more frequent trips to the water cooler, or by simply pacing up and down the hallway “for no reason.” I love it.
The NEAT philosophy is equally appealing to me for the way in which it introduces exercise as a daily form of “non-work” rather than labour per se. This week it broke my heart when my adorable ten-year-old Little Sister informed me that she was punished for talking during her Taekwondo lesson with a round of push-ups. WTF? Push-ups are not a form of corporeal punishment; they are a worthy accomplishment that promotes health and strength. Along similar lines, I hate it when people view going to the gym as a kind of torture, rather than a much-needed reward. Apparently this stance is commonplace, for the media buzz surrounding Gwyneth Paltrow’s selection as People Magazine’s “most beautiful woman in the world” included the following comment: “Of course she hates working out as we all do, but she is lucky enough to have an extra two hours per day to exercise.” While I am not exactly a fan of Ms. Paltrow, this statement rankles me because it presumes that: 1) working out is always unpleasant—no it fucking isn’t and if you despise the gym please try soccer or biking or pretty much any other form of movement that will raise your heartrate—and 2) that fitness is a form of indulgence pursued primarily by the wealthy. Argh! Where should I begin? Perhaps with the metabolic profiling and conditioning promoted by Dr. Kravitz and his colleagues because they potentially undermine the contradictory stereotype that figures exercise as a type of punishing labour pursued by the idle rich. In the NEAT philosophy, physical movement emerges differently, as a “break” from work, and a form of irrational resistance to the regulated workplace. NEAT is furthermore aimed at re-conditioning the “labouring body,” ultimately privileging manual and corporeal work as the best kind for both mind and body. So get out there, and get busy. Movement is neither a chore nor a luxury; it is necessary for life.