I saw this slogan printed on the back of someone’s shirt at a race a few months ago. It so perfectly summed up my advice to my patients that I came right home and ordered it on a T shirt!
As American Heart Month draws to a close, I wanted to talk to you about the importance of movement to keeping our hearts strong as well as keeping us at a healthy weight. We established in an earlier blog that formal, scheduled exercise is good for overall health and disease prevention but may be far less important than we have previously thought when it comes to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. Let me explain what I mean by that. Suppose you spend an hour a day 7 days a week hitting it hard at the gym (or with any other strenuous exercise). If you get your recommended 8 hours of sleep each night, you still have 105 waking hours per week during which many of us live pretty sedentary lives. 50 years ago, before our current obesity epidemic, we were much more active in our everyday lives and much less likely to be overweight. Even if we spent our after work hours watching tv, we at least had to get up and walk across the room to change the channel! Now technology has turned us into video game playing, social media addicted, binge watching sloths. Combine that with far too many readily available high calorie processed foods and there is little wonder why more than two thirds of us are overweight or obese!
Since our formal workouts take up such a small percentage of our waking hours, we have to learn to incorporate more movement into our daily lives. Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic has developed the concept of NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis). NEAT refers to the daily movement we perform outside of formal exercise. The more active we are during the rest of our waking hours, the more fit we are likely to be. The biggest enemy to our NEAT levels is sitting! If you have a job that requires you to be on your feet and moving around all day, consider that a blessing. If, however, your job chains you to a desk or to a computer, you have to develop strategies to incorporate more movement into your day.
I am sure you have seen ads for the standing desk. This invention has become popular because research has shown that we burn 3 times more calories standing than sitting. We all should make a conscious effort to stand more. You don’t have to invest in a pricey gadget to do this, however. This is the makeshift standing desk in my home office that I am using as I am writing this post. I’m not really cheap but I am frugal!
Here are just a few suggestions for incorporating more NEAT into your days. These are some of the ones that I use and suggest to my patients all the time. Some of them may sound silly but every calorie burned counts toward a fitter you.
1. Brush your teeth for a full two minutes twice a day and march in place while you do it.
2. Instead of standing in front of the microwave or toaster waiting for the timer to go off, walk around your kitchen.
3. NEVER park in the closest parking spot you can find! Trade in the elevator for the stairs.
4. Set a timer on your phone or use your Fitbit to remind you to stand 5 minutes out of every hour. There are even phone apps for this purpose. Use your fitness tracker or pedometer to track your steps and aim for 10,000 steps per day.
5. Go to the bathroom that’s farthest from your work station.
6. Consider organizing a 5 minute “Instant Recess” with your co-workers. Here is an example I found on YouTube:
7. If your child has a sports practice or game, stroll a few laps around the perimeter of the field instead of just sitting.
8. For those of us who are social media junkies: make it a rule to only be on social media while standing.
9. Pack a lunch and use half your lunch time taking a walk outside or up and down the stairs in your building.
10. Clean your own house. Make its seem like fun by blasting your favorite music and dancing between tasks.
11. Practice yoga poses, pilates and stretches while watching tv.
12. If you have children or grandchildren, teach them to play the games you played as a child and play with them.
These are just a few of the hundreds of ways we can all become more active. If you have others you would like to share, please leave them in the comments. Remember, we are all in this journey toward our healthiest selves together!
“Dear friend, I hope that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit.” 3 John 1:2 (NLT)