Exercise is more than a gym routine

01.24.19 |

Yesterday, I shared with our community how new research again validates a core idea in the Habits of Health: The NEAT System.

If you’re new to the Habits of Health, the NEAT System is a simple but powerful idea. When many people think of health, they assume that means diet and exercise. Our approach, however, is very different. We take nutrition and healthy motion very seriously, but we do not think about or use them in the old way. For exercise, yes, going to the gym is important and has a wealth of proven benefits, but a formal exercise program is only a fraction of the opportunity.

NEAT stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis, and it encompasses all of the movement that takes place during the day that is not part of a formal exercise routine. All movement requires energy. It may not feel like much, but walking to your car burns calories. Standing in line at the grocery store burns calories. Even sitting up straight, activating your core, burns calories.

Yes, these are small expenditures, but the secret is that we can sprinkle little boosts of activity throughout our day and reap a multitude of benefits. These extra doses of motion can help us lose weight and also to combat the effects of a sedentary lifestyle.

In the study I linked above, they discovered just how powerful this can be. They had their test subjects “vigorously” climb a three-flight stairwell. They had up to four hours to recover (four hours!) between climbs, and they did that three times a day. The program called for three sets of these climbs a week, and they kept that up over six weeks.

The study’s author, Johnathan Little, said, “We know that sprint interval training works, but we were a bit surprised to see that the stair snacking approach was also effective. Vigorously climbing a few flights of stairs on your coffee or bathroom break during the day seems to be enough to boost fitness in people who are otherwise sedentary.”

That’s incredible!

If you had a break every four hours, could you climb a few flights of stairs? Maybe you start with one extra flight of stairs instead of three, and that’s okay.

Sneaking in movement in the time it takes for a bathroom break is precisely the spirit of NEAT. Add a few flights of stairs where you can (opting out of the elevator). Walk to the far water cooler. Stand instead of sit when you take a phone call. Dance a little bit to music instead of sitting still.

If we can build the habit of being more active throughout our days when we are not in the gym, we can unlock impactful rewards. You can start small, adding a little bit more motion over time, and still make positive progress toward your goals.

I hope reading this has you sitting up straighter and thinking about taking a quick stroll.

As always, talk to your physician before changing your routine.