You don't have to be a gym rat to get your daily exercise, according to a new study.
The findings, published in the American Journal of Health Promotion, show that small bouts of physical activity throughout the day -- that which comes from activities like raking the leaves, mowing the lawn or taking the stairs -- count as exercise just as much as designating a period of time to work out at a gym.
"Our results suggest that engaging in an active lifestyle approach, compared to a structured exercise approach, may be just as beneficial in improving various health outcomes," study researcher Paul Loprinzi, an assistant professor at Bellarmine University who conducted the research while at Oregon State University, said in a statement. "We encourage people to seek out opportunities to be active when the choice is available. For example, rather than sitting while talking on the phone, use this opportunity to get in some activity by pacing around while talking."
The study included 6,321 people who were between ages 18 and 85 and part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2003 and 2006. Researchers calculated the study participants' daily physical activity using accelerometry, and also noted their health conditions, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and metabolic syndrome.
The researchers found that 43 percent of those who just engaged in short bouts of exercise got a half-hour of physical activity every day -- which is keeping in line with the American Heart Association physical activity guidelines of 30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week.
Meanwhile, just 10 percent of those who did longer periods of exercise -- not just "short bouts" -- met those exercise guidelines, the researchers found.
Plus, the metabolic syndrome risk was about the same between those who only did short bouts of exercise and those who did longer exercise sessions -- 87 percent and 89 percent, respectively.
"In our society, you will always be presented with things that entice you to sit or be less active because of technology, like using a leaf blower instead of a rake," study researcher Brad Cardinal, professor of exercise and sport science at Oregon State University, said in a statement. "Making physical activity a way of life is more cost-effective than an expensive gym membership. You may be more likely to stick with it, and over the long term, you’ll be healthier, more mobile and just feel better all around."
Need some ideas for moving more? Click through the slideshow for tricks to add more steps in your day:
Pace the room while waiting at the doctor's office. <strong>More from Health.com:</strong> <a href="http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20432121,00.html" target="_hplink">10 Ways to Walk Off Fat Faster</a> <a href="http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20500418,00.html" target="_hplink">9 Easy Ways to Sneak in More Exercise</a> <a href="http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20395219,00.html" target="_hplink">20 Ways to Torch 200 Calories</a>
Grocery shopping? Make an extra tour around the perimeter aisles before checking out.
Use the restroom one floor down (or up) at work instead of heading for the one just down the hall.
Ditto with your coffee.
Hide the remote so you have to actually get up to change the channel. Better yet, turn off the TV.
Park The Car
Instead of fighting other drivers for that single open spot near the door, do your blood pressure a favor and park several rows away.
Don't Just Sit There
Walk <a href="http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20355765,00.html" target="_hplink">around the block </a>while your kid is taking dance class/playing soccer/whatever.
Get Off The Bus
Get off the bus or subway one stop early.
Brush Your Teeth
March in place while brushing your teeth (go ahead and shut the door first if you'd like).
Get The Mail
Going to the mailbox? Take a tour around the house first -- then take the time to say hello to that chatty neighbor who flags you down.
Walk To The Store
Hoof it to the store when you're only buying a few easy-to-carry items.
Don't Send That Email
Walk over to your coworker's desk instead of e-mailing her.
Make it a nightly habit to go for an after-dinner stroll with the family.
Early for an appointment? Walk around the block instead of adding to your interminable time in the waiting room.
Take a daily afternoon "brainstorming" walk.
Wander the room while chatting on the phone.
Walk To School
Walk your child to school instead of waiting in the endless carpool line.
Instead of cooping yourself and your coworkers up in a stuffy conference room, make your next meeting a walking one.
Headed to the mall? Stroll the length of it once before you start buying -- and scout the sales while you're at it.
Set An Alarm
Set the alarm on your computer to go off every hour or two, then take a quick tour around the floor (or even just a trip up and down the hall) when it does.
Next time you have to run a couple of errands, park midway between your destinations and walk to them both. In between, pause to leave the dry cleaning in the car before strolling over to pick up your best friend's birthday gift.
Forget The Stilletos
Leave the stilettos in the closet and charm your hubby (or boyfriend) into taking a moonlit walk after dinner at your favorite restaurant.
No More Escalators
Tell yourself that you're allergic to escalators and act accordingly.
Instead of getting together with the girls for a stay-put meal, plan an evening of window-shopping or an afternoon of new-neighborhood scouting.
Take The Scenic Route
Whenever possible (and safe), take the scenic route! <strong>More from Health.com:</strong> <a href="http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20432121,00.html" target="_hplink">10 Ways to Walk Off Fat Faster</a> <a href="http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20500418,00.html" target="_hplink">9 Easy Ways to Sneak in More Exercise</a> <a href="http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20395219,00.html" target="_hplink">20 Ways to Torch 200 Calories</a>