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NEAT Exercises For Couch Potatoes

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By Wyatt Myers

Simply moving more and sitting less can boost your health because of the calorie burning called NEAT, or non-exercise activity thermogenesis. "It takes energy -- calories -- to move even the smallest muscle," says Polly de Mille, R.N., an exercise physiologist with the Women's Sports Medicine Center at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. "For example, you burn about 1.5 calories per minute just lying still while your body performs its most basic functions." Go from lying down to sitting in a chair and answering e-mail, and you'll burn 25 percent more calories. Now start fidgeting in your chair and you'll burn more.

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And all those little movements can add up: The amount of everyday activity you get -- beyond the 30 minutes of traditional exercise you might be doing -- might matter even more for your overall health than trips to the gym, recent research published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found. Here are some NEAT ways to make the move-more concept work for you.

Make Appointments To Move
If you have a desk job or collapse on the couch as soon as you get home, train yourself to just get up more -- it could help you live longer. People who stand fewer than three hours a day live around three years longer than more sedentary peers, a new paper published in the online journal BMJ Open found. "Sitting for extended periods of time has been linked with heart disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity," says April Plank, M.S., M.B.A., an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer and performance enhancement specialist with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. "Getting up hourly and walking to the restroom, getting a refill of water or standing up to stretch can decrease stiffness, boost energy and burn calories. Also, when watching TV, during every commercial break get up and move. Do a few stretches, walk around the house or bust out a few bicep curls." All are easy exercises for beginners.

Get A Pedometer
To gauge how much moving you currently do and then motivate yourself to do more, de Mille suggests buying a pedometer, an inexpensive gadget that clips on a belt and counts steps for you. Wear it all the time to track both at-work and at-home exercises. "There's nothing like having a running tally of your steps per day staring at you from your waistband to make you want to move more," de Mille says.

Add In Steps
Now that you have your pedometer, one of the best NEAT exercises for beginners is to find creative ways to increase steps every day, de Mille says. You can easily add movement to almost every daily activity. "Park at the far end of the parking lot or get off the subway or bus a stop early," she says. "Extra steps add up to significant calories over time." And that makes them easy exercises for weight loss.

Pace And Fidget
You probably try to avoid both of these moves to keep from looking irritable or nervous, but they're easy exercises for weight loss. Pacing rather than standing still and fidgeting rather than sitting still will burn more calories and are prime examples of NEAT in action. "Pace when talking on the phone," de Mille says. "Use talking on the phone as a cue to stand up and start pacing or just shifting your weight from one foot to the other. Stand up and stretch every time you hit 'send' on an e-mail."

Take The Stairs
If you want easy exercises for weight loss that really pay dividends, take the stairs whenever possible. "If climbing stairs seems too daunting, take the elevator up and walk down on your way out," de Mille suggests. "Or if you're going to the fifth floor, walk up to two or three and take the elevator the rest of the way. Climbing stairs is a great way to burn calories and strengthen your legs."

Dance While You Clean
Cleaning is one at-home exercise that we all have to do -- you might hate it, but it's NEAT at its finest. Hannah-Marie Williams, a certified personal trainer and exercise physiologist in New York, suggests amping up the calorie burn and turning on the music. "A good inspirational tune can add some extra pep to your step as you vacuum, iron, and tidy up around the apartment or house," she says. "The music, along with the joy dancing freely generally brings, can cause the brain to signal the release of serotonin, creating emotional benefits while you torch calories."

Carry Your Groceries
Combine strength training and errands on your next trip to the store: If you live within walking distance of your market, see whether you can carry groceries in your arms rather than a cart. If you have to drive, turn unloading the car into an at-home exercise, and add a few bicep curls every time you lift a bag out of the trunk.

Take Advantage Of Sitting
NEAT at-home exercises done while you're sitting can provide you with some great strength training exercise for beginners. "Raising one's heels while seated is an excellent option for working out the muscles in the lower leg," Williams says. "Place a large book on the knees while raising the heels to provide more resistance and an even bigger boost in caloric expenditure."

Turn Waiting In Line Into Exercise
Whether at the grocery store, the post office or the movies, waiting in line can turn from an unfortunate reality of life into a NEAT opportunity to get in some easy exercises for weight loss. "Stand on one leg or step side to side when waiting for an elevator, a bus or a train," de Mille suggests. "If you're taking a subway or a bus, stand. There are plenty of people who will be grateful for your seat."

Have A Ball
Plank suggests sitting on a stability ball as often as possible for a great NEAT at-work and at-home exercise that's sure to help you build strength. "Sitting on the ball forces you to balance yourself so you are constantly using your core muscles," she says. "Along with strengthening the core, the ball gives an opportunity to gently bounce and move during the day so you can burn more calories just sitting at your desk. If you can't sit on a ball at work, try it at home while watching television, eating dinner, playing video games, doing laundry or reading. Any time you can be sitting, you can be sitting on the ball!"

For other easy ways to move more, click through the slideshow below:

25 Ways To Move More
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This article was medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, M.D., M.P.H.

For more on fitness and exercise, click here.

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