Dr. James Levine is a professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic. He's a movement expert who discovered NEAT, or nonexercise activity thermogenesis, which is a system he believes will beat obesity and poor health. His book on the subject is Move a Little, Lose a Lot.
The first time I interviewed him, we never sat; we trotted. (That's his walking pace.) We stood and walked at his treadmill desk during the entire conversation. Now Levine is the co-director of the Mayo Clinic/Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative.
Lynne Rossetto Kasper: What is standing out now about the work you've been doing these past years?
James Levine: My colleagues and I have demonstrated not only the impact of moving throughout the day on weight management, but also on diabetes, blood pressure, and even how we feel. Over a very, very short period of time, this science has escaped the laboratory and impacted society in multiple corporations.
And I mean, I don't just mean large, wealthy corporations. I mean small businesses, medium-size and large businesses, realizing and recognizing that healthy employees work better, healthy employees are happier, and healthcare costs associated with healthy employees are less. It has become evident that the more movement that is interlaced into the workday, the healthier and happier people become.
And nutrition follows. When people feel better about themselves, they're more interested in cooking really good-quality, beautiful meals. These two things go hand in hand.
Very interestingly, it's not just corporations. It's individuals at home; it's schools. All of a sudden, you get this sense that the nation has started to rise up and this health opportunity is upon us, and it's now mainstream.
LRK: You did an experiment in which you fed people an extra 1,000 calories a day. What was this test about?
JL: We overfed people in a laboratory setting -- very, very carefully controlled. We knew all of the calories going in, and we also knew how all of the calories were burned. What we discovered is that the people who are up and moving around throughout the day, those people are the ones who burn off all those extra calories and don't gain weight.
Fidgeting is an indicator. It's sort of like the sparks flying. It shows you that a person is about to jump up; their body wants to move. The brain is sending fidgets as a way of saying, "Come on. Get up!"
LRK: But what happens if you're not one of those people? Is it a case of consciously standing up and moving every 40 minutes or so? I mean, is that the way you reprogram yourself?
JL: You have it absolutely spot on. I mean, the most powerful organ in the whole body -- the solution driver in the whole body -- is of course the brain, the consciousness. The way forward is lots of mind-based or intellectual tricks. Set a little timer on the work desk, write on a Post-It note. Individuals have to engage in their own solutions.
What comes back to us so often is, "You know, doc, I tried to do those things, but you know, I've got to get the kids to camp, I've got another job I've taken on with economic times, I just can't fit in all that stuff you asked me to do."
So how do you build a series of solutions that meet individual needs? The way we're addressing that is to work with databases of millions of individuals to find out what's working for different people, and build a solution base to help individuals. It is that individualization, just as with food, we need to do for physical activity. That's where we're going.
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