When it comes to activity every little bit counts

02.10.15 |

The NEAT practical system to gradually introduce more activity into your daily life

Last week, I wrote about a compelling new study out of the University of Cambridge that found that inactivity was responsible for more deaths than obesity. A few days later, two new studies came out that looked at the same issue from a different perspective.

The key takeaway: even a little bit more activity can potentially reduce mortality levels.

A small amount of movement can make a big difference in your life.

While I strongly encourage a life rich with movement and activity, this research affirms a conclusion that I reached many years ago. If you have read Dr. A’s Habits of Health, you should be familiar with the NEAT system. For my new readers, the NEAT system is a practical approach to gradually introducing more and more activity into your daily life. This system, rooted in the ever little bit counts philosophy, encourages you to do little things like stand when you take a phone call or wash dishes by hand instead of using a dishwasher.

I said it then and this research now confirms it: a small amount of movement can make a big difference in your life, especially if you are living a sedentary lifestyle.

Make small manageable changes

According to the new research—which comes in the form of two individual articles, one from France and one from the U.S.—only 15 percent of older adults in the U.S. and U.K. are reaching minimum levels of activity, far short of the 150 minutes of moderate activity per week standard that is often touted by experts. In fact, the 150-minute standard may actually discourage activity. 150 minutes for someone who has almost no activity in their lives seems impossible, so they might think to themselves, “Why bother?”
“We argue that when advising patients on exercise doctors should encourage people to increase their level of activity by small amounts rather than focus on the recommended levels,” says Phillip B. Sparling, EdD and his peers at the School of Applied Physiology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta.

This is the Habits of Health philosophy at work. Small incremental improvement takes the fear away as we build new neural pathways and start making new habits that support your desired outcomes

With my vision of eradicating obesity, it’s incredibly exciting to see more and more research that demonstrates just how deeply the Habits of Health run. In this case, the conclusion is simple: small changes are manageable. They aren’t scary. They feel attainable and practical. If you show a sedentary individual a stair-running routine, he or she will quit before they even try. Tell them to walk to the far water cooler and they think, “Yeah. That’s not too bad. I can do that.”

That little bit of change is the beginning of a profoundly different sort of momentum in a person’s life. First it’s walking to the far water cooler. Then it’s taking the stairs. Then it’s taking a walk after work. Starting a fitness program is notoriously difficult, which is why starting small can be so crucial.

Some highpoints

While a moderate level of activity is still the ideal, what does the research say about the rewards for a small change in activity? Here are some highpoints:

  • Philipe de Souto Barreto, PhD, a researcher at Gerontopole of Toulouse, University Hospital of Toulouse, France says that moving from “sedentary” to “slightly” activity could mean lowering your mortality rate by 14 to 37 percent.
  • Dr. Barreto also says that, according to a study conducted in Norway, a single weekly exercise session can also lower your risk of cardiovascular mortality.
  • Don’t forget that a more active lifestyle will also help to combat the known dangers of sitting too much and lead to exercise-produced stress relief.

The Optimal Health standard of aiming for a lifestyle of Healthy Habits of Motion is not going away, but this new research should give anyone intimidated by health hope. Even the smallest of changes comes with measurable rewards, which should make it easier and less intimidating to begin your journey. Based on this research, it’s true what they say about a million miles beginning with one step.

So take it!

To read more about the research cited in this article, visit