8 Ways to Work Out Without Working Out

Sports doc Jordan Metzl tells you how to burn more calories without logging more gym time

January 7, 2014
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Here's an unexpected health role model: The Amish. Despite a diet high in meat, pie, sugar, and fat, obesity is practically non-existent in this traditional agricultural community--which shuns technology, including electricity and cars. And not only are the Amish able to lose weight without exercise, but they also boast lower cancer rates than the rest of the US.

So what's their stay-fit secret? The answer is NEAT. And no, this doesn't mean that they stay thin by being tidy. NEAT stands for nonexercise activity thermogenesis, or everyday movement that doesn't include scheduled exercise. Consider the simple act of walking: Amish women take about 14,000 steps per day, and Amish men average 18,000--which works out to 7-9 miles! To put this into perspective, the average American takes about 5,000 steps per day.

But don't worry--you don't have to live like the Amish to lose weight. In his book The Exercise Cure, Jordan D. Metzl, MD, explains how exercise is the best medicine for dozens of health problems (and often better than an actual Rx). "All you have to do is stand up and move to guarantee yourself a healthier and longer life," says Metzl. Here are some smart ideas from his book to help you raise your daily activity level with very little extra effort.

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NEAT Tip #1: Meet face-to-face

Email and phones have made most of our jobs as sedentary as possible--you can get nearly all of your work done with the push of a few buttons. Making the effort to actually walk down to your coworker to get you questions answered is a simple way to get more active at the office. You'll burn more calories, and an in-person convo is often more efficient than trying to hash things out via email.

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NEAT Tip #2: It’s called a mobile phone for a reason

Gone are the days of corded phones, and even computers have been released from the confines of their desks. So why do we still tether ourselves to chairs and offices? Next time you're on the phone, take it as an opportunity to take a walk, or at least stand. Using a laptop? Take every chance you get to pick it up and switch rooms.

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NEAT Tip #3: Schedule microbreaks

Do you leave work feeling like you shrank? Your posture might be to blame, since your ligaments and soft tissues deform after holding a position for 20 minutes. Fight the tendency to stay slumped over your keyboard with a simple egg timer. Set it for 20 minutes and when it goes off, take a one-minute break to stretch and move around (repeat this routine throughout the day). Stretching, standing, or taking a short walk to the end of the hall can not only improve your posture, but it'll also increase your NEAT and help you burn more calories.

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NEAT Tip # 4: There are hidden workouts everywhere

Maybe you live too far from your job to walk to work, but that doesn't mean you can't park at the far end of the parking lot or take the steps instead of the stairs. These sound like no-brainers, but every single step counts. (How do you think the Amish walk 8 miles every day?) Another easy one: skip a ride on the conveyor belt at the airport. You're about to sit for at least 2-6 hours, so you should take whatever opportunities for exercise you can get!

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NEAT Tip #5: Miss your stop on purpose

Maybe your bus or subway stop lands you right on your doorstep. While that's super convenient, it's also robbing you of extra steps. Instead, take the next stop and walk back to your house or apartment. It's probably only an extra 10 or 15 minutes, plus you'll get to explore your neighborhood.

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NEAT Tip #6: Walk and talk

Think about your last few conversations: Where were you? A coffee shop? A restaurant? A boardroom? Regardless of the answers, chances are you were in the same place: a chair. Sitting all day has been linked to weight gain and a host of other health problems, so next time you need to have a discussion with a friend or coworker, try walking in the park or around the block while you chat. Maybe even schedule your next meeting as a walking meeting, as walking can help get blood--and ideas--flowing.

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NEAT Tip #7: Put it out of reach

Do you keep your filing cabinet and wastebasket at arms reach? Try moving them just a little bit farther away, so that you'll need to move and stretch to use them. Building in little inefficiencies like this will keep you from staying perfectly still all day long. Bonus: If you've been sitting all morning, that stretch to reach for your stapler on the other end of your desk will probably feel pretty good.

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NEAT Tip #8: Don’t be a couch potato

The average American watches TV for 5 hours per day! That's 5 hours of sitting on the couch. That's 5 hours of not moving a muscle. You don't need to stop watching TV all together, of course, but you can incorporate NEAT into your TV time by using commercials as opportunities to get in mini workouts. Do anything from squats to simple stretches--anything to keep you from being completely inactive. For more tips on how to lose weight and feel great simply by exercising, pick up a copy of The Exercise Cure.

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