Some days, it feels like no matter how much time you clock in the gym or how carefully you watch your diet, you’re just not burning as many calories as you would like. But there’s a secret to burning hundreds of calories without even realising it.
From the outside, you won't even seem to be doing anything exceptionally strenuous, but there are plenty of opportunities to work your body without you going out of your way to look for them. In fact, research has shown that by just getting up to move around instead of staying sedentary can make a huge difference. Just making a little extra effort can bring you surprising results.
It boils down to this…
Basal metabolic rate (BMR) is what accounts for about two-thirds of the total calories our bodies burn in a day. It is the amount of energy the body needs to maintain basic functions while at rest, like breathing, regulating body temperature, and keeping the heart pumping. Simply by sitting on the couch without doing anything, you’re already burning some calories. For instance, you can burn 40 to 55 calories per hour while sleeping, and more if you’re sitting up reading.
BMRs vary from person to person, circumstances, and even change over time. It might slow down with age or when the body goes into starvation mode (which is why it never pays to starve yourself), or increase when you've built more muscle. A slowing metabolic rate is one of the reasons why some people have a hard time trying to lose weight. BMR can also be affected by medication and some medical conditions like thyroid disease.
So if you’re doing all you can do to keep your weight in check but need a boost now and then, here’s how you can seize every opportunity to pump up that heart rate, flex those muscles, and raise your basal metabolic rate.
1. Stand up and work
Spending long hours every day at work means we are sedentary for most of our days. More time spent sitting means fewer calories burnt. Just by standing while you work can help you burn up to 50 calories an hour. You don’t have to stand the whole day (although you can take on that challenge), but even standing 20 minutes every hour at your desk can add up over time. So it might not be a bad idea to invest in a standing desk if you need an easy way to burn hundreds of extra calories a week.
2. Up your protein intake
High-protein foods like eggs, fish, lean meat and dairy require our bodies to use more calories to digest per gram of food, as compared to those high in fat and carbs. In other words, you can burn more calories by tucking into a chicken breast salad than if you had a grilled cheese sandwich.
Therefore, having a whole, protein-based meals and snacks can help to burn an extra 20 to 30 calories a meal and up to 100 to 120 extra calories a day.
3. Get more sleep
The benefits of sleep should not be overlooked. Research has shown that sleep deprivation not only increases our appetite (due to the stimulation of the hunger hormone ghrelin), but also slows down our metabolism. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition demonstrated that those who sleep four hours every night can consume up to 300 more calories than those who sleep a healthy amount.
The daily recommended amount of sleep is between seven to nine hours. By getting sufficient restful sleep, you can cut at least 300 calories every day. Plus, if you’re well-rested, you’d have more energy in the day to exercise, and just squeezing in a quick HIIT workout can burn up to 500 calories.
4. Stay hydrated
Being dehydrated can cause a drop in metabolic rate. A German study found that constantly drinking water (eight to ten cups) throughout the day helps to raise metabolic rates by approximately 30 percent. Not only does drinking water keep you feeling fuller longer, it will also speed up your metabolism.
Drinking cold water has been found (in a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism) to burn more calories than drinking warm water because the cold shocks the body into warming itself up. Our bodies can burn seven calories just by converting a 250ml glass of cold water to body temperature, so if you were to drink 10 glasses of cold water a day, you can torch an extra 490 calories in a week.
5. Fidget more
An impulse to fidget may differ from person to person. You may not be a fidgeter, but just by imitating one - tapping your fingers, jiggling your leg, shifting in your seat, or pacing - you can burn up to 350 more calories a day than if you remain stationary. It’s a form of energy expenditure that burns a few calories that can accumulate over time. One study even found that non-exercise movements like fidgeting can burn up to 350 calories a day. Every bit of movement counts!
6. Straighten up
Having a good posture not only makes you look leaner and taller, it also helps to strengthen your core. Just by sitting up straight, you engage your core muscles that will hold up your upper body, making your body work harder and burn a few extra calories.
And, whenever you can, try to work your abdominal muscles. Clench them tightly in short, intense bursts, and try to hold it for longer each time. 30 seconds, 40 seconds, then a minute.
Building up your abs and a strong core can also improve endurance and reduce the chances of getting injured when you work out.
7. Eat smaller meals more times a day
Our body expends more energy when it’s digesting smaller meals every few hours than when it’s digesting heavier, less frequent meals. For one thing, eating a smaller meal prevents you from overeating or making bad choices at the supermarket, pantry or snack machine. For another, eating frequently keeps your metabolism up because your body has to work more often to digest the food.
Starving yourself is counterproductive because you’re only telling your body to go into starvation mode, where it will then cling on to every bit of fat on your body instead of burning it.