The Surprising New Way to Stay Fit -- Without Exercise
If getting fit is one of your new year's resolutions, there's good news: It's easier than you think to do it.
A stack of new research shows that you don't need to spend hours at the gym at an "I'm-killing-myself" pace to stay in tip-top shape. Mini bursts of moderate activity may actually be a more effective way to lose weight or stay in tip-top shape.
That's NEAT! We don't mean "neat" as in cool, but NEAT as in "non-exercise activity thermogenesis." NEAT is scientific shorthand for everyday movements, like standing, bending, walking, toe-tapping, washing dishes, folding laundry. Basically, it's any physical movement, or calorie burning, other than exercise.
How NEAT Works
Dr. James Levine, a Mayo Clinic researcher is one of the world's leading proponents of NEAT and the author of the book Move a Little, Lose a Lot: New Neat Science Reveals How to Be Thinner, Happier and Smarter. Levine says that the average person can burn an extra 350 calories a day -- enough to drop 3 pounds a month -- just by adding little spurts of activity into their daily life. Everything counts, like taking a 30-minute walk at lunch, pacing while you're on the phone, marching in place for a few minutes while watching TV, standing as you text, running around the yard with your dog. Doing anything, in other words, but sitting.
"If a person just gets off her bottom and stands up," says Levine, "so much muscle activity is involved that your metabolism spikes immediately." Avoiding long stretches of inactivity has many other health benefits, too, from improving your mood to improving your cholesterol.
Why 'Easy' Exercise Is Actually Your Best Bet
Mark Blegen, Ph.D., an exercise researcher in St. Paul, Minn., says that's likely because the intense exercisers felt they had a free pass to eat whatever they wanted and turn into couch potatoes for the rest of the day. The people who worked out for half a time, on the other hand, kept moving and watched their diet. "When you've worked out for only 30 minutes, you tell yourself, consciously or not, I'm going to make an effort to do more throughout the day," says Blegen.
Get Started With NEAT Today
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