Community//

Can Active Living Replace a Daily Workout?

Small movements can have a big impact on your health and well-being.

You’ve probably asked yourself: How can I maintain an active lifestyle when the majority of my day is spent sitting down? Sometimes it can feel as though we just transition from one sedentary position to the next — we often start our days sitting in the car or on public transit to get to work, and end our evenings sitting down as we watch, read, or listen to our devices. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week, yet only 23 percent of Americans achieve this level of exercise.

A simple, and often overlooked, strategy to implement more movement in your daily work routine is as easy as a Microstep, like lifting your legs under your desk, or taking a lap around the office. Activities like these contribute to NEAT, or non-exercise activity thermogenesis, which is the energy expended when we are not sleeping, eating, or deliberately exercising. For those who struggle to attain recommended levels of exercise, paying more attention to lower-impact activities that can be done in the workplace or at home can help you maximize your movements and reap the most health benefits. “With the advent of wearable devices that make it possible to accurately measure energy expenditure, rather than just counting steps, researchers are discovering that dozens of non-exercise activities can be slipped into our daily routine and, together, replace a stint at the gym or a morning jog,” Daphne Miller, a family physician and author, writes for The Washington Post.  

Miller refers to three environments in which we can make the most of NEAT: at home, in the workplace, and during our daily commutes. Miller teamed up with James Levine, an endocrinologist who coined the term NEAT, to identify things that can be done in these three contexts to burn over 500 calories every day. And calories aside, paying attention to NEAT and engaging in “active living” can lower your risk of cancer, heart disease, and depression, which ultimately enhances your well-being in and out of the workplace.

At home, make your chores do double-duty

At home, you can sneak in more activity by getting essential things done, like cooking. Miller and Levine identify light chores, such as making your bed or preparing meals, and walking a short distance during commercial breaks of your favorite show as NEAT-inspired ways to be more active at home.

Sneak in some exercise on your commute — and on your lunch break

While at work, the physicians recommend taking the stairs rather than the elevator, walking briskly to pick up lunch, and conducting walking meetings with colleagues to expend more energy during what would otherwise be a sedentary workday. Lastly, incorporating quick walking during your commute — whether that means your walk from the office to the train, taking the stairs in the parking garage, or, if possible, walking the entire way home — can also add to active living.

While living a NEAT lifestyle is very beneficial to your overall health and well-being, questions still remain about whether or not NEAT can truly replace full exercise regimens. Nolan W. Peterson of the Mayo Clinic says NEAT cannot and should not replace exercise altogether, yet studies suggest that converting sedentary activities into active NEAT pursuits could help slow increasing obesity amongst children and adults. Furthermore, a 2017 study showed that employees who used a workstation at their desk to engage in spontaneous leg movement (which contributes to NEAT) experienced higher metabolic rates than those who did not.

Debate aside, a NEAT lifestyle is attainable and recommended for everyone, except for those who have a physically demanding job (since their lifestyle is already very active). Taking the stairs rather than the elevator, catching up with a friend or colleague on a walk instead of at your desk, or doing a spontaneous dance as you make breakfast in the morning can make you feel both happier and healthier as you go about your day.

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