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John Whyte, M.D., MPH Headshot

6 Smart Ways to Burn Calories Outside of the Gym

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"I want to get in shape, but I don't have time for the gym/I don't know how to exercise/gym memberships cost too much/I don't have anyone to work out with/It's too hot/ It's too cold (insert excuse here)."

As a physician, I've heard lots of excuses why people think they cannot be physically active. The biggest excuse revolves around the gym. Well, you don't actually need to go to the gym to lose weight and get healthy. Here are some simple changes we can make today to our daily lives to help burn extra calories without the hassle or anxiety that comes with a gym session.

1. You are the master of your own workspace.

Just because it's called a "workout" doesn't mean it has to happen outside of work. Sure, long work hours are often to blame for missed gym sessions, but who says you can't burn calories while earning a salary? There are a number of bodyweight exercises that can be performed in small spaces without equipment. And think about how commonly people decorate their desks and cubicles with family photos, sports memorabilia, etc. -- why not customize your workspace for your fitness goals, too? A small cycle can keep those idle feet busy while you sit in the comfort of your chair. Many models cost less than $40 and fit easily under your standard desk. If you're feeling very ambitious, consider a treadmill under your desk so you can walk at a slow speed while working. It's actually becoming quite popular. Over all the hours you spend at work, the calories burned will really add up!

2. Take a stand against unhealthy habits.

Scientific studies have suggested that more time spent sitting means higher risk of heart disease and death, even if you exercise regularly. The solution may be to sit less -- hard to do when you have a desk job, right? Wrong! The human body is designed to be upright. Consider ditching your desk chair and working at a standing desk. Standing while working can improve posture, enhance alertness, strengthen the legs, and activate the core -- thereby burning up calories. Notable figures like Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill, and Ernest Hemingway are purported to have used standing desks, so why not you? Fancy, commercial, model standing desks with electronic height adjustment are available for a few hundred dollars, but with a little creativity, it shouldn't be hard to raise the height of the desk you currently use. Start small, alternating between periods of standing and sitting until you're comfortable standing for extended periods. Great for students, too!

3. Step up to a healthier lifestyle.

It's as simple as taking the stairs. Everywhere you go. At work? Take the stairs. At school? Take the stairs. At the mall? Take the stairs. Gotta get to the 15th floor? Yes, you're taking the stairs -- or maybe you can take the elevator halfway up, but then you're taking the stairs. Staying home and watching TV after a long, busy day with no time or energy to go to the gym? You're spending your commercial breaks climbing the stairs. Stairs getting too easy for you? Try taking them two at a time, or while carrying books.

4. You are the master of your own home space.

Two things that people will always find excuses to avoid doing: exercise and housework. And we all know that both of them are good for us. But what if you could kill two birds with one stone? It may surprise you that common household activities, like sweeping and mopping floors and scrubbing the bathroom, consume serious calories. Instead of waiting weeks for the mess to pile up and cleaning it all at once, assign yourself a few small tasks to do each week. This will help you burn more calories and give you that consistently clean home that you've always wanted. And with spring around the corner, it's the perfect time to get outside and take on some DIY projects. Yard work -- like gardening, mowing the lawn, and planting trees -- uses up even more calories than most indoor chores. Consider installing some outdoor fitness equipment; making it yourself could motivate you to continue using it consistently.

5. Fitness is not about fun and games -- or is it?

Getting fit shouldn't feel like a chore. It's supposed to be fun, right? Who says you can't rediscover the fun of your childhood while getting in shape? Jumping rope does not require a gym, and is a very challenging exercise. Some modern video games, like the Nintendo Wii and Xbox Kinect, have even ditched the traditional sedentary model of play in favor of body motion-based activity. In fact, specific games have been released with the goal of improving fitness. You can engage in yoga, dance, boxing, and other virtual activities without even leaving home! It's no surprise that these gaming platforms have found their ways into personal training studios and physical therapy clinics around the country.

6. Dance like no one is watching.

If you're like most people, you like to enjoy a little music now and then. Why let your ears have all the fun? Dance is essentially a form of exercise that incorporates your entire body. Throw on your favorite tunes and drop some moves while getting dressed in the morning or while doing your usual household chores. There doesn't have to be any skill or choreography; just get your body moving and your heart racing to ensure you're burning up maximum calories.

Will each of these changes burn as many calories as a tough workout at the gym? Not necessarily, but it's a start. Getting fit isn't just about getting to the gym. It's also about changing our sedentary and passive routine to become more active. Combined with a diet focused on fish, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy, as well as a steady exercise program, these changes will have you well on your way to a fitter, happier, healthier life.

For more by John Whyte, M.D., MPH, click here.

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