By Karen Ravn, Special to the Los Angeles Times
April 14, 2012
When it comes to weight control, exercise doesn't matter. Non-exercise is what counts.
That may sound like heresy, but, in fact, it's a theory based on years of highly respected research — and the science behind a little high-tech gizmo called the Gruve Solution.
The Gruve is one of a gaggle of gadgets called personal activity monitors that you can carry in your pocket, hang on a keychain, wear like a watch. In this case, you "get your Gruve on" — as its maker, Gruve Technologies, likes to say — by attaching it to your waistband.
The primary function of these monitors is to count the calories you burn and to challenge you, praise you, play games with you, keep stats on you, do everything their makers can think of to get you to burn more energy. Most of them encourage you to exercise. Not the Gruve.
The Gruve is a NEAT monitor. And no, that's not a value judgment. It just means the device is especially designed to keep tabs on your "non-exercise activity thermogenesis," scientist-speak for the calories you burn when you're doing just about anything you don't think of as exercise — shopping, gardening, picking up after the dog.
Other devices aren't sensitive enough to register such small-potatoes stuff very accurately, says Dr. Robert Gauthier, chief executive of Gruve Technologies. Or they're too sensitive: Gauthier says he once tried out another monitor "and it showed I walked 3,000 steps while sitting in a plane between Minneapolis and Denver."
Why sweat the small stuff? Because most of us burn fewer calories when we're exercising than we burn just going about our ordinary daily business, says Dr. James Levine, whose research at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., first revealed this counterintuitive fact and led to his invention of the Gruve. This is true even for people who exercise religiously, not just the slugs.
The Gruve encourages you to burn more calories in its own way: It issues a semi-stern warning whenever you've been vegging out too long. "It doesn't give you an electric shock," Levine says, "just a little buzz." The buzz is a heads-up that you need to start "not exercising" a little more vigorously. Writing email on the computer burns some calories; mowing the lawn burns more. (Levine's personal approach is an office treadmill at his workstation on which he strolls all day long at 1 mph instead of lolling around on a chair.)
There's more to the Gruve than just the weensy wearable widget. It comes with a USB cable to connect it to your computer (Apple or PC), where you can store your daily calories-burned data, track your seven-day average and maybe get inspired to best your "best day ever." When you first start using the Gruve, you establish a baseline activity level. After that you can set goals for outdoing yourself. And you can psych yourself up all day long just by pressing the "halo bar" on your Gruve, which changes colors from red to orange to yellow to blue to green as you draw closer and closer to success.
The Gruve has been tested in a number of office settings, and all had good results, Gauthier says — employees lost weight and increased their activity, and their moods perked up.
Other obesity researchers also see value in the device. It can provide useful feedback and motivation, says James Hill, the executive director of the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver. Nonetheless, he adds, "this is just a tool, and people still have to decide to make the commitment ... and to maintain that behavior."
A similar caveat comes from Levine himself: "The Gruve is exceedingly accurate, but it's only as good as the user. If you leave it on your dresser, it won't do you any good."
The Gruve — including a one-year subscription to Gruve Online — goes for $179.95 at http://www.gruve.com. Other packages, with shorter or longer subscriptions, are also available.