Say it isn’t so, more life-improving hacks to incorporate into your daily routine. This time with the help of Rachel Swanson, a registered dietitian and founder of the nutrition consulting practice Diet Doctors, LLC, we’re sharing easy ways (like really easy ways) to stay fit. Did we mention no exercise is required? OK, cool. Just wanted to confirm you saw that important note.
We’ll let Rachel take it from here. “Ahead, I’m sharing five science-based habits and hacks to leverage for calorie burn—but more specifically (and more importantly) to increase oxidation and utilization of fat. After all, the real goal isn’t just to burn calories—it’s to burn fat.
This falls into the category of non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), and it can account for significant calorie burn throughout the day.
Think: bouncing your leg, tapping your feet, exaggerated movements with your arms while you talk, standing up frequently from your chair—all these small movements compound to have a significant role in mobilization and oxidation of fat for energy.
For having nothing to do with exercise in the ‘traditional’ format … fidgeting and similar micro-movements throughout the day are worth leveraging, especially since research has found this can burn 350 calories per day, and sometimes more.
Using the feeling of being cold to your advantage, more specifically. Shivering is a strong stimulus for calorie burn—to mobilize and oxidize fat through the release of adrenaline (epinephrine).
Shivering triggers the release of a molecule called succinate, which acts on brown fat to increase thermogenesis. So if you want these metabolic effects, don’t resist the shiver.
How to do it: find a temperature that induces shivering after a few minutes of exposure (this depends on your cold tolerance). If you don’t have a cold plunge or access to cryotherapy, no problem—a cold shower can also work. After you shiver for about a minute or so, get out of the chosen exposure (cold plunge, cryo, or shower) for few minutes, then get back in for a few minutes to try once again to access your shiver point. Repeat. Your starting point might be incorporating this practice once per week, gradually increasing to several times per week.
Note: keep in mind this recommendation is distinctly different from pushing yourself to stay in the cold for as long as possible. Rather, this practice involves repeated bouts of brief, intermittent cold exposure to access the metabolic benefits associated with shivering.
Sauna session (or hot bath)
Heat therapy via sauna use offers a wide range of beneficial physiological effects. I’d go so far as to say increasing calorie burn is actually the least exciting of them.
Based on available research, the average temperature to access the multitude of benefits (beyond torching calories) is 170 degrees F for about 20 minutes, with sessions repeated several times per week. However, a lower temperature and/or duration is naturally a safer starting point for those who aren’t yet heat adapted. Similar to cold therapy mentioned above, the goal is to gradually increase the session frequency so it becomes part of your weekly health ritual.
If you don’t have access to a sauna: incorporating a hot bath multiple times per week has also been proven effective for offering similar benefits. The key is to make it hot as the goal is to be riding on the edge of discomfort (just as you would in a hot sauna) to get maximum metabolic effects.
Coffee before exercise
Caffeine is a well-established ergogenic aid (has performance-enhancing benefits), but it can also increase fat mobilization and oxidation by amplifying the release of epinephrine/adrenaline.
The takeaway is that if you like caffeine and can use it safely (e.g. no medical contraindications, it’s not your first time experimenting with it), ingesting around 100-400 milligrams of caffeine (the actual amount depends on your tolerance, and how caffeine sensitive you are) via coffee, espresso, or a caffeinated tea can help increase fat oxidation. Aim to consume it about half an hour prior to exercise or training.
Go to bed earlier
This isn’t a strategy for burning more calories, but I find it to be one of the most effective tools for avoiding the consumption of extra calories. Because there’s nothing like putting in significant work to burn calories during the day … only to destroy your efforts later that night.
In practice, I find that for those who can resist all the packaged snacks that seem synonymous with staying up late (chips, ice cream, candy, etc.), it not only allows for a better start the following day, but it also extends the overnight fasting window, which allows the body to focus on repair, rejuvenation, and detoxification—rather than digestion. The metabolic benefits of this strategy, known as time-restricted eating, are well established and have tremendous benefits for the vast majority of my clientele.
In fact, I’ve had clients who’ve lost weight on this strategy alone by changing nothing else except nixing all the late-night munchies, which goes to show how effective it can be for producing a caloric deficit. For best practices and to get the most out of this daily hack, I recommend avoiding all snacks after dinner, or at minimum stopping a few hours prior to bed.”
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Rachel Swanson, MS, RD, LDN, is a registered dietitian and founder of the nutrition consulting practice Diet Doctors, LLC. She counsels celebrities, C-suite executives, professional athletes, and entrepreneurs as the Nutrition Director for LifeSpan Medicine. Her work focuses on developing personalized treatment plans for cardiometabolic health, longevity practices, weight loss, disease prevention, and optimal maternal-fetal outcomes.
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