NEAT Exercises for Couch Potatoes

EverydayHealth.com—July 11, 2012

Simply moving more and sitting less can boost your health because of the calorie burning called NEAT, or non-exercise activity thermogenesis. “It takes energy — calories — to move even the smallest muscle,” says Polly de Mille, RN, an exercise physiologist with the Women’s Sports Medicine Center at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. “For example, you burn about 1.5 calories per minute just lying still while your body performs its most basic functions.” Go from lying down to sitting in a chair and answering e-mail, and you’ll burn 25 percent more calories. Now start fidgeting in your chair and you’ll burn more.

And all those little movements can add up: The amount of everyday activity you get — beyond the 30 minutes of traditional exercise you might be doing — might matter even more for your overall health than trips to the gym, recent research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found. Here are some NEAT ways to make the move-more concept work for you. 

Get a Pedometer
To gauge how much moving you currently do and then motivate yourself to do more, de Mille suggests buying a pedometer, an inexpensive gadget that clips on a belt and counts steps for you. Wear it all the time to track both at-work and at-home exercises. “There’s nothing like having a running tally of your steps per day staring at you from your waistband to make you want to move more,” de Mille says.

Add in Steps
Now that you have your pedometer, one of the best NEAT exercises for beginners is to find creative ways to increase steps every day, de Mille says. You can easily add movement to almost every daily activity. “Park at the far end of the parking lot or get off the subway or bus a stop early,” she says. “Extra steps add up to significant calories over time.” And that makes them easy exercises for weight loss.

Pace and Fidget
You probably try to avoid both of these moves to keep from looking irritable or nervous, but they’re easy exercises for weight loss. Pacing rather than standing still and fidgeting rather than sitting still will burn more calories and are prime examples of NEAT in action. “Pace when talking on the phone,” de Mille says. “Use talking on the phone as a cue to stand up and start pacing or just shifting your weight from one foot to the other. Stand up and stretch every time you hit ‘send’ on an e-mail.”

Take the Stairs
If you want easy exercises for weight loss that really pay dividends, take the stairs whenever possible. “If climbing stairs seems too daunting, take the elevator up and walk down on your way out,” de Mille suggests. “Or if you’re going to the fifth floor, walk up to 2 or 3 and take the elevator the rest of the way. Climbing stairs is a great way to burn calories and strengthen your legs.”

Turn Waiting in Line Into Exercise
Whether at the grocery store, the post office, or the movies, waiting in line can turn from an unfortunate reality of life into a NEAT opportunity to get in some easy exercises for weight loss. “Stand on one leg or step side to side when waiting for an elevator, a bus, or a train,” de Mille suggests. “If you’re taking a subway or a bus, stand. There are plenty of people who will be grateful for your seat.”

Read more NEAT tips at everydayhealth.com.

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