“It takes energy — calories — to move even the smallest muscle,” explains exercise physiologist Polly de Mille, RN, director of the Tisch Sports Performance Center at the 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 email and you’ll burn 25 percent more calories. Now start fidgeting in your chair and you’ll burn even more.
The more NEAT activities you engage in each day, the more calories you burn, which, in turn, helps you maintain or even lose weight, and improves your overall health, according to research published in June 2018 in the Journal of Exercise, Nutrition & Biochemistry. In fact, the amount of everyday activity you get beyond the 30 minutes of formal exercise you might be doing could matter even more for your health and longevity than trips to the gym, per research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Here are some NEAT ways to make the move-more concept work for you.
1. Use Your Phone to Add Activity at Work
If you have a desk job or collapse on the couch as soon as you get home, train yourself to just get up more — it could help you live longer. People who stand fewer than three hours a day live around three years longer than their more sedentary peers, according to an analysis, published in the online journal BMJ Open, of five large-scale studies involving 2 million people in 20 countries. One easy way to reduce your sitting time is to set an alarm on your phone to remind you to stretch at your desk for a few minutes every hour. “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,” adds de Mille. “Stand up and stretch every time you hit send on an email.”
2. Make Counting Your Steps Easy
To gauge how much moving you currently do and then motivate yourself to do more, de Mille suggests tracking your steps with a no-frills pedometer or a fitness tracker. “There’s nothing like having a running tally of your steps per day staring at you to make you want to move more,” de Mille says. You can easily add steps 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.”
3. Take the Stairs Up or Down
If you want a NEAT activity that really pays 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 two or three and take the elevator the rest of the way.”
4. Make Chores More Fun by Dancing
Cleaning is one at-home exercise that we all have to do — you might hate it, but it’s NEAT at its finest. Amp up the calorie burn by turning on some music to add extra pep to your step as you vacuum, iron, and tidy up around the apartment or house.
5. Carry Your Groceries Home
Combine strength training and errands on your next trip to the store: If you live within walking distance of your market, see whether you can carry the groceries in your arms rather than a cart. If you have to drive, turn unloading the car into an at-home exercise by adding a few bicep curls every time you lift a bag out of the trunk.
6. Fidget With Your Feet
Toe tapping and raising your heels while seated are not only NEAT exercises, they also work the muscles in the lower legs, and may even help prevent arterial disease, according to research published in July 2016 in the American Journal of Physiology: Heart and Circulatory Physiology. Placing a large book on your knees while raising your heels will provide more resistance and an even bigger boost in caloric expenditure.
7. Make the Most of Your Time While Standing in Line
Whether it’s at the grocery store, the post office, or the movies, waiting in line can transform the boring realities of life into a NEAT opportunity. “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.”
8. Have a Ball While Sitting
Sitting on a chair requires no muscle activity at all, but sitting on a stability ball (also known as a fitness or balance ball) forces you to subtly contract lots of different muscles to maintain your balance. If you can’t sit on a ball at work, try it at home while watching television, eating dinner, playing video games, or reading.
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