Even a little bit of extra exercise has health benefits, says Thrive editor Niki Bezzant, who rounds up clever ideas for adding useful snippets of movement to your everyday life.
We all know we need to move our bodies regularly – probably more than most of us do right now. It’s recommended that for good health and disease prevention, we exercise for at least 150 minutes each week – that’s not much more than 20 minutes a day – at a moderate level. We should also add in a bit of intense exercise and some flexibility and balance work, too.
The benefits of exercise are well known. Regular exercise is associated with a reduced risk of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and certain cancers. It’s also known to be great for our mental health, and it can help with conditions like anxiety and depression.
What’s more, the hazards of sitting too much are becoming clear as they’re researched. Being too sedentary slows down our metabolism and increases our risk of lifestyle diseases.
So – how do we get more movement into our lives without hitting the gym or the pavement?
Here’s where it’s worth knowing about NEAT: non-exercise activity thermogenesis. This is all the activity we do that’s not formal exercise, like moving around during the day, doing housework, walking to the bus, standing, even fidgeting.
Those little movements can be really powerful. It’s estimated NEAT movements could result in us burning significantly more calories per day beyond our basal metabolic rate, depending on our body weight and level of activity. Scientists say making use of NEAT-type movements during work and leisure time could be what we need to do to maintain “negative energy balance” – in other words, burning more energy than we take in. In a 2015 study on NEAT, the researchers recommended NEAT should be part of medical recommendations for the prevention of obesity and heart disease.
How to get more NEAT into your life:
1. Sit less
Whether it’s a standing desk, standing up to chat to a colleague or doing stretches while watching TV, anything we can do that’s a bit more active than just sitting will do us good, and ramp up our metabolic rate.
2. Walking meetings
Working in an office? Try walking meetings instead of sitting ones. You’ll get out of the meeting room, maybe get some fresh air, and get some blood flowing to your brain so you have more and better ideas.
3. Stand up when you’re on the phone
Next time you take a call, stand up and walk around. It’s a simple habit to get into that gives you a break from sitting and perks up your energy burning.
It sounds silly, but fidgeters might have an edge over those who sit still when it comes to burning energy. Believe it or not, this has been studied, and the researchers found people who fidgeted while sitting or standing burned 29 percent and 38 percent more calories respectively than when they were lying still. Try jiggling your legs in boring meetings or when watching TV, or doing wrist or ankle circles while sitting on the bus or waiting in a queue.
5. Change your environment
Small changes to how your environment is set up might make a big difference to how much you move in a day. Think of things that encourage you to get up from your seat, like moving the rubbish bin away from your desk, or putting the phone on the other side of the room so you need to move to answer that ping.
6. Take the stairs
An oldie but a goodie – if there’s an option to climb the stairs instead of taking the lift, take it! It’s great for activating the large muscles in our legs and butt which gives the metabolism a nudge.
7. Move more while doing chores
Use the “empty” time while waiting for the jug to boil or stirring a pan on the stove to do more small movements. Try calf raises or even a few squats.
8. Use technology
Use your phone to help you get up from sitting down regularly. Schedule micro-breaks with the alarm feature, or download a stretching app and schedule a stretch every few hours.
9. Use a basket, not a trolley
Shopping? If you’re only buying a few things, choose a basket instead of a trolley to give yourself a bit of an incidental weights challenge.
10. Socialise actively
Instead of meeting friends for coffee or a wine, try doing something active together, like having a walk or a bike ride. You can still chat, but you’ll be getting a dose of NEAT in, too.