updated 03/26/2013 AT 1:00 PM ET
•originally published 03/28/2013 AT 12:00 PM ET
Think about a typical day.
You lay still as you sleep for eight hours. Then sit in your car for 30-60 minutes commuting to work, where you sit at your desk for eight hours, only to sit in your car again for the 30-60 minute commute back home.
When you get home, you sit for another hour as you eat dinner, followed by some sedentary television/web surfing time, then back to bed for another eight hours. That’s essentially 24 hours of inactivity.
Some of you make the effort to “get your butt kicked” in a hardcore spin/step/bootcamp class for 45 minutes a few times a week. But, guess what? It’s not working! Even 45 minutes of high-intensity cardio does not make up for 23 hours and 15 minutes of inactivity.
That’s right, a mounting body of evidence, including a recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, indicate that long periods of inactivity are so harmful that a single bout of exercise can’t counteract its effects.
Moreover, some of you may be doing more damage than good! You’ve surely heard the adage “working up an appetite?” Studies show that there is a direct relationship between the intensity of cardio and an increase in your appetite. In fact, 45 minutes of high-intensity cardio with an over-caffeinated screaming instructor will not only make you hungrier, but it may actually injure you.
Repetitive stress injuries (or doing something over and over again) from stepping, peddling, press, pushing, are rampant in group fitness classes.
Let’s not forget the “permissive effect.” Imagine you sit all day, then do you hardcore cardio burn for 30-45 minutes, then you eat a healthy dinner, and dessert is placed in front of you. Still in the afterglow of you fat-melting spin/sprint class, you feel as though you deserve the dessert and quickly eat the equivalent of all the calories you burned earlier in the day.
The electronic age has made it so that we barely have to get up from our chairs to work, eat and play. Think about all the time and effort-saving devices we have built in to our days – dishwashers, vacuums, remote controls, washing machines, elevators and cars. All this physical effort we’ve been “saved,” however, is also causing a health crisis.
So how do we counteract our sedentary lifestyles? By being NEAT! NEAT (or Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) is all the activity in a day that isn’t exercise: walking around, fidgeting, standing, bending, turning and generally just moving.
Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic coined this term and has made it his life’s work to raise awareness at how our low NEAT levels are at the root of our nation’s health problems. His research backs the theory (and my firm belief) that if we exercise less but move more, we’ll lose weight, reduce our risk of heart disease, and be happier and healthier.
Dr. Levine and I aren’t alone, as it turns out. There is a growing and undeniable amount of evidence coming out through research that suggests that an individual’s NEAT level is perhaps the single most important factor in one’s body weight. When you add up all the calories that these ‘lesser’ activities burn (240 calories an hour gardening, 210 an hour cleaning, 140 calories pushing a stroller for 45 minutes) it amounts to quite a bit, especially when you compare it to limiting your calorie burn to a daily gym session (approx. 350 calories burned jogging on the treadmill for 30 minutes).
In fact, Dr. Levine estimates that our sedentary lifestyle has robbed us of burning between 1,500 and 2,400 calories per day!
A couple of years ago, I traveled the globe researching the habits of the healthiest countries for my book The 5 Factor World Diet and there was a startling common thread in their fitness routines – there was no fitness routine! The people of Japan, Italy, France, China and Spain don’t go to the gym. They’re just way more active than Americans.
They take leisurely daily walks, do their errands on foot, and walk, bicycle, or take public transportation to work. To make my case, consider this: the average European walks 237 miles every year and cycles 116 miles. The average American walks just 87 miles and cycles just 24 miles. No wonder Europeans are healthier – they’re three times as active!
On my blog I’ve discussed a ton of ways to walk more in your day, which is probably the best way to increase your activity, but don’t stop at walking! Increasing your NEAT score is as simple as not sitting still. Move your home computer to a counter where you can stand when you surf the web. Put the remote on the other side of the room so you have to get up to use it. Dance around while you’re drying your hair. Instead of going to the movies, go mini-golfing or play darts. Rake your leaves instead of using those deafening leaf-blowers.
Just get moving! If you’re burning an extra 150 calories a day, that’s more than 50,000 calories over a year.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, forget about saving up for that expensive treadmill, or wasting money on your gym membership dues that you rarely use, and buy yourself a pedometer. I’ve got a tiny little FitBit that sits in my pocket each day and syncs with my Windows Phone to let me know how much (or how little) I’ve moved and how many calories I’ve burned that day.
If you’re not as tech-savvy, you can start with a very inexpensive, simple pedometer for only a few bucks that will give you a relatively accurate gauge of your daily steps. Either way, get one, and start being NEAT.
Tweet me @harleypasternak and let me know how many steps you take a day.