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Pandemic makes maintaining a healthy weight imperative

Last week’s column never mentioned the coronavirus, yet it was conceived because of it.

It focused on the calories you burn during the day in addition to the ones expended for basic cellular activity, digestion, respiration, and circulation, as well as planned exercise. It’s better known as NEAT, the acronym for nonexercise activity thermogenesis.

According to the guy who coined the term - James A. Levine, MD, PhD and researcher at the Mayo Clinic - NEAT explains why one person could require up to 2,000 more calories per day than another of the same size, shape, and age.

Since research has shown overweight individuals don’t burn nearly the same number of cals from NEAT as healthy-weight individuals, Levine’s advice to give up “chair-living” and get back to using your legs could be all you need to lose excess weight.

While the benefits of doing so have always been advocated in this column, the pandemic has seriously upped the ante. Read “Obesity and impaired metabolic health in patients with COVID-19” in the April 23 issue of Nature Reviews Endocrinology, and you’ll know why.

The paper cites a study of 383 adults in China where the combination of being overweight and having the coronavirus led to an 86 percent higher risk of developing severe pneumonia as compared to normal-weight individuals with the disease. Being obese increased the risk to 142 percent.

Additionally, in a review of more than 4,100 New York City coronavirus cases, being severely obese was “the second strongest independent predictor” that led to hospitalization. Only old age was stronger.

But the most chilling statistic cited came from a Seattle study where obesity was correlated to the mortality rate of those afflicted by coronavirus. While 36 percent of critically ill non-obese coronavirus patients died from it, those critically ill from it and obese died at a rate of 62 percent.

In other words, if the virus hits you hard and you’re obese, your risk of dying increases by 42 percent.

Is it any wonder why the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention recently added severe obesity as a risk factor for the coronavirus?

Since the most up-to-date statistics offered by the CDC places the percentage of adults in the U.S. who are severely obese at 7.6 percent, you are probably not if you’re reading a column like this. But the CDC lists the percentage of U.S. adults who are overweight or worse at a mind-numbing 71.6 percent.

Being part of that group and getting the coronavirus is not good.

In an interview with Eleanor Bird for WebMD, Dr. Norbert Stefan of the German Center for Diabetes Research and the lead author of the aforementioned study explains the underlying reason for the last statement: “There is data emerging showing that hyperglycemia [high levels of glucose in the blood], even in the range where diabetes cannot be diagnosed, is a strong and independent predictor of a severe course of COVID-19.”

Many who are overweight have hyperglycemia. Fortunately, a planned course of proper dieting and moderate exercise virtually eliminates the chance it leads to type 2 diabetes.

But many who are overweight or worse do indeed have type 2 diabetes. While it goes without saying you should do whatever it takes to keep from getting this disease any time, during the pandemic it’s imperative. Similar to the severely obese, type 2 diabetics who contract the coronavirus get hit especially hard by it.

In fact, about 25 percent of the people who have died in England from the coronavirus had diabetes, according to statistics from NHS England disclosed in a May 14 article in The Independent - yet only 6 percent of the British population has the disease.

So now that you’ve digested all the data about how excess weight escalates the severity of the coronavirus, let’s get back to NEAT.

Face it: Unless you’re a professional athlete or retired and in excellent health, your time to exercise each day is limited. And unless that 45 to 60 minutes of exercise is really intense, it doesn’t burn a significant number of calories.

But if you do as Levine suggests and give up “chair-living,” you can burn a significant number of NEAT calories throughout the day. For instance, in Move a Little, Lose a Lot (Crown Archetype, 2009), a book Levine co-authored with Palmerton native Selene Yeager, they explain an easy way to burn up to 115 more calories if your job requires you to be on the phone for an hour.

Don’t sit and talk. Stand and pace. When you need to take notes, do so by placing your note pad atop a cabinet.

Add this change to parking five blocks further away from work, taking stairs instead of the elevator, and walking at a moderate pace during half of your lunch hour and you can burn nearly 500 more calories during your workday.