Whole Living Daily

How Being Fidgety Keeps You Fit

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I read a lot of exercise journals and get the latest study results on fitness and health. I'm curious about just about everything - BUT whenever I used to come across a story about NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) I'd turn the page.

I thought it was a snooze. I had zippo interest. Until I saw it in action.

What Is NEAT?
NEAT is a fancy phrase for moving your butt when you aren’t officially working out, or as The Mayo Clinic puts it:

“...the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise. It ranges from the energy expended walking to work, typing, performing yard work, undertaking agricultural tasks and fidgeting.”

The NEAT-est Guy
I witnessed the power of NEAT in my very own household. Steve, my husband, possesses the same waist measurement he has had since high school.

He eats ice cream at 10 pm and sometimes goes months without a formal workout. He partakes in epic Italian brunches with his family on Sundays. Yet there is no denying—the guy is effortlessly slim.

Why is that, I wondered? I always joked about The Suit & Tie Workout and then I realized it was NEAT.

A typical morning for Steve includes going up and down the two flights of stairs in our very vertical home, three or four times before touching foot outside. The reasons?

His Bluetooth, the car keys, or corralling the dog. He paces as he talks on the phone. This non-exercise activity happens every single morning without fail, burning hundreds of calories before 9 am.

He lugs big architectural renderings into offices and reviews them while walking around boardroom tables. The guy doesn’t sit down for long and he surely doesn’t lean back in his chair. He’s on the go and burns a workout’s worth of calories in his suit and tie. And his waistline is testament to it.

Now that we have a toddler, Steve has actually dropped lbs because our kid has created NEAT galore. The late night lounging is gone and lots of crawling on the floor has replaced it. These days, many hours are spent going up and down the playground slide.

Due to time restraints, my own workouts have minimized with parenthood but my pant size is the same and I think I owe it to  NEAT.

Thus far this morning, I took the dog for a walk. I’ve gone up and down three sets of stairs doing laundry. I wrestled with my son for five minutes. I wrestled with him some more as I dressed him and changed his diaper. I dragged the recycling containers to the curb and it’s 8:45am. I may not be able to go to yoga class tonight, but I’ll be a-okay with all my NEAT. It’s not so boring after all!

Secret to Weight Loss?
If you are trying to drop those last 5 lbs., NEAT could be the answer and here is so fuel for the fodder:

Using micro-sensors, a recent study supported by the National Institutes for Health concluded that lean sedentary people are standing and ambulatory for 152 minutes longer per day than obese sedentary people.

If the obese subjects adopted the same posture allocation (a.k.a. stand up a little more often) as the lean subjects, they might expend an additional 350 calories per day because of the energy cost of standing/ambulating. That means they’d lose 1 lb every 10 days without a gym membership, spandex, high tech kicks or pricy personal trainers.

How can you get more NEAT? I recommend finding someone with a naturally NEAT lifestyle and observe the details, just like I observed my husband. Young children are great role models too (as are puppies).

How to spot a NEAT-er: They probably wear comfortable shoes around the office, so they can get up and move often. They might fidget or tap their toe. I just realized that I reach up and tie my hair back into a ponytail, then take my hair of a ponytail at least 20 times a day.

Got Energy? Spend It!
NEAT people don’t “conserve” their energy. Instead they use it with big arm gestures while conversing or, like Ellen Degeneres, they break into a dance when they hear a beat.

A big percentage of New Yorkers are NEAT people I suspect…have you seen how fast these people walk down the street? Those steep subway stairs? The rent controlled walk-ups? All in a day’s workout!

Ellen Barrett is a mind/body fitness expert and regular contributor to Whole Living. She lives in New Haven, Connecticut with her family. For information about her exercise DVDs, books, and classes, please visit EllenBarrett.com

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Comments (1)

  • I have to agree about the husband deal - my hubby is the same way! But I myself have a NEAT lifestyle albeit w/o kids but with a dog. Maybe all that figety-ness I have is finally paying off positively!

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