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Stay fit and healthy — without breaking a sweat

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 7, 2020.

Not a fan of the gym? Don't sweat it. You can increase your calorie burn — and decrease your risk of health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes — by simply getting out of your chair and moving more often. Taking the stairs, walking to the water cooler, doing yardwork or marching in place at your child's soccer game all count, and they are all examples of NEAT: nonexercise activity thermogenesis. Essentially, this type of movement represents the calories burned outside of sleeping, eating and purposeful exercise (and yes, you do burn calories while you sleep!).

Whether you're an avid exerciser or self-proclaimed couch potato, any extra activity you do throughout the day is important. In fact, moving more just might save your life. Why? Research shows that too much sitting can increase the risk of serious health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

If you're still feeling daunted, know this: Your total daily movement is what counts most when it comes to staying healthy; a regular 60-minute workout several times a week is not enough to offset serious health conditions. In fact, studies have shown that even people who get seven hours of purposeful exercise a week can be at risk of premature death if they are sedentary for most of the day. NEAT can't replace exercise altogether, but it can help you reach your health goals, since your body's ability to burn calories shoots up dramatically when you are up and moving around.

Need more convincing to practice a NEAT lifestyle? Check out these stats:

  • Across the world, almost one-third of adults are not physically active, and in the United States, that number is as high as 50 percent.
  • The average exercise time for adults is 18 minutes, and more than half of all leisure time is spent watching TV or engaging in other sedentary activities. As a result, most people get less than the recommended 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise five days a week, for a total of 150 minutes of purposeful exercise.
  • One study looked at the amount of calories TV watchers burned by simply getting up and stepping in place during commercial breaks. Participants burned on average 67 calories or 55 percent more calories compared with sedentary TV viewers.
  • If you have diabetes, a walk after every meal can help with controlling blood sugar levels. Research has found that walking for 15 minutes at a moderate pace after every meal was more effective at controlling the post-meal rise in blood sugar than a single 45-minute walk during the day was.

Ready to start incorporating more NEAT activities into your day? It begins with the right mindset. Get past an all-or-nothing mentality and seek out simple opportunities to add movement to your day. Walking the dog, taking the trash out, getting up for a cup of water, or doing stretches and squats during TV commercials all count. It's also important to reverse negative thinking. Instead of telling yourself, "I have to move more today," say "I'll try to sit less today." Ask yourself, "How can I make more moving part of my lifestyle?" It's not about a quick fix. Two or more hours of NEAT movement each day can make a huge difference. It will have a snowball effect for an overall healthier, more active lifestyle.


Sit less and move more with these experiments.

  1. Think about your daily routine and write down two or three ways you could add movement to your day, such as taking the stairs instead of using the elevator or doing squats while you watch TV.
  2. Discover resources that will motivate you to move more — a pedometer, fitness app or walking buddy are all good places to start.
  3. Counteract every hour that you sit by getting up and moving for five to 10 minutes.

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