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TV Turn-off Week

Thursday, March 26, 2009 Posted by Travis Saunders
In the past, I have discussed Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT), which includes all calories which are burned through non structured physical activity. For example, calories that are burned while performing chores around the house, or while walking up and down stairs at work, or making whipped cream by hand for your girlfriend's birthday supper because you don't have the foresight to buy an electric mixer - these would all fall under the category of NEAT.

NEAT is interesting as a potential treatment for obese individuals for several reasons. First and foremost, studies have shown that obese individuals often do not enjoy structured exercise as much as their lean peers, making longterm exercise adherence a real issue. Further, research suggests that obese individuals who are taking part in structured exercise interventions may compensate by performing less physical activity in their daily lives (e.g. less NEAT), to the point that some interventions report that inviduals in exercise programs end up burning less calories than "sedentary" control subjects who are not performing structured exercise. Finally, despite burning relatively few calories at any one time, since NEAT can be incorporated into the entire day, it can still be used to burn a considerable amount of calories.

All of this brings me to an initiative which is taking place here in Ontario the week of March 30th, which is called the TV Turn-Off Challenge (although you and your family could try it any time in any location). Families and individuals are being urged to turn-off their TV's, computers, and all other screens during their free time, in order to spend time doing other things - playing games, eating a sit-down meal, whatever you like. It doesn't necessarily have to be exercise all the time, it just has to be something which doesn't involve a TV or computer screen. And if you decide to actually do the Challenge, there is an allowance for 2 hours of total screen time during the week, so you can still check your emails or catch SportCentre a few times. If you like the idea of the TV Turn-Off Challenge, some cable providers allow you to go one step further and shut off your cable without penalty during the summer months, which is an option that you might want to seriously consider.

Turning off TV and computer screens does not guarantee that you will spend more time in physical activity. But it's very likely. Perhaps as importantly, you might spend more time with your family or friends, learn a new skill (juggling and jogging are my personal favourites) or engage with your community by doing some volunteer work. Screen time zaps us of many important things, NEAT just happens to be one of them.

For TV Turn-Off information or resources, see the Kingston Public Health website here, or see the City of Ottawa website here.


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We are PhD students in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Our research focuses on the relationships between obesity, physical activity, and health risk. This blog is our attempt to consider the many "cures" for obesity that we read about on a daily basis. Enjoy.


The opinions expressed here belong only to Peter and Travis and do not reflect the views of any organization. Any medical discussion on this page is intended to be of a general nature only. This page is not designed to give specific medical advice. If you have a medical problem you should consult your own physician for advice specific to your own situation.

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