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How to Get More Exercise Without “Exercising”

Darleen Barnard is board certified health coach and personal trainer who specializes in weight loss by using the power of the mind.


Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)

We all know that exercise is good for our health. From helping us manage our weight to improving strength, flexibility, and just feeling better, exercise offers a ton of benefits. The problem is most of us struggle to find the time. We barely have enough time each day to get the things done that we need to get done. How can we possibly add in exercise?

The good news is we can get exercise throughout the day without having to set aside an hour of “dedicated exercise time. Approximately 15-30% of daily caloric expenditure is a result of our daily activities, also called the thermic effect of physical activity or TEPA. The other 70-85% of our daily caloric intake is used to maintain basic bodily functions needed to survive.

These 15-30% of total calories can be broken down into dedicated exercise time and non-exercise activity thermogenesis or NEAT. Since the majority of people do not participate in actual dedicated exercise time, it’s important for all of us to take a closer look at NEAT to see how we can maximize it in our own lives.

Calories expended through NEAT vary significantly from person to person. Research has concluded that the majority of NEAT is a result of occupation and leisure activities such as going to work or school, cleaning the house, grocery shopping, etc. Think of how much bending, lifting, twisting, pushing, and carrying you do when you go out for your weekly grocery run! You don’t necessarily need to lift weights at the gym. You can get more exercise just by being purposeful when you complete your daily activities!


How to Get More Activity Throughout the Day

Those of us who have jobs that require us to be on our feet all day will naturally burn more calories throughout the day than those of us who have desk jobs. An increasingly sedentary workforce is definitely playing a role in the obesity epidemic. As our workforce has become more sedentary, our waistlines have gotten bigger.

However, even if you have a desk job, there is still a lot you CAN do!

Here are just a few ideas to get you moving and increase the number of calories expended through NEAT:

  • Walk for 10-15 minutes as soon as you wake up in the morning – before you day gets too hectic. Enjoy the quiet alone or with your dog or a walking partner. As an added benefit, exercise first thing in the morning gets your metabolism moving for a higher calorie burn throughout the day.
  • Walk for 30 minutes at lunch. Keep a pair of walking shoes in your desk so you can quickly grab them and go at lunch. Invite someone from the office to walk with you and network and build those professional relationships!
  • Have a “walk and talk” meeting at work instead of sitting behind the desk. You aren’t the only one at work who would like to move more! Start a trend for 1-1 meetings and grab those walking shoes!
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Use your break times to take a walk and move around.

Use your break times to take a walk and move around.

  • Pace when talking on the phone. Who says you have to sit when you talk on the phone? The days of being tied to the wall by a phone cord are over. Use your mobile phone and be mobile!
  • Invest in a standing desk or a treadmill desk. Granted, the other options are free but in reality, we still have a lot of computer hours to get through! If you have a standing desk, march in place or do some squats or calf raises while working. Even two or three here and there add up throughout the day! You will also avoid that achy back, stiff legs, and the mid-afternoon slump that many of us feel from a long day of sitting. Plus, have you noticed how many great ideas you get when you are walking and moving around? Increase mental productivity by getting out of your chair. The human body is not designed to sit all day!

Standing Desk

  • Walk for 10-15 minutes as soon as you get home from work before making dinner and taking care of the kids. Take that time to switch gears and be present for your family!
  • Walk with your spouse, kids, significant other or friend in the evening and talk about your day. Enjoy some quality time away from the TV and electronics and build those relationships with those close to you!
  • Park in the last parking spot – away from the building. Get in those extra steps and avoid door dings!
  • Avoid all escalators, elevators, moving walkways, etc.

Say "No" to People Movers

When possible, find ways to be active while going from place to place. Instead of using an elevator or escalator, take the stairs.

When possible, find ways to be active while going from place to place. Instead of using an elevator or escalator, take the stairs.

Those are just a few ideas to get you moving more. Exercise is cumulative and it adds up throughout the day. You don’t need a one hour high-intensity workout. Many activities that we do throughout the day can be accomplished by standing, pacing, and walking. Even better, track your progress with a pedometer or activity tracker, such as a Fitbit, and aim to increase your steps by 10% each week. Invite friends and family to weekly challenges and see who can get in the most steps throughout the day!

Be creative—sit less, move more, and see how much more energy you have!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Darleen Barnard


Christine Mulberry on August 15, 2018:

I used this philosophy throughout my life and it worked well for me. I think there are some studies that show frequent movement is more effective at reducing weight than a one-hour long workout. I also used to make it a point to walk over to other people's offices to talk to them personally rather than phone them. It's also true that people who fidget burn off a lot of calories, I have a tendency to wiggle my foot or leg when I sit although I try to tone that down when I'm around others since it can be annoying!

RTalloni on August 14, 2018:

Really good stuff. I try to think this way about daily activity but your comment about being purposeful in daily activities is a good theme to keep in mind. Thanks for an encouraging read on getting more exercise into our day.

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