When you're trying to lose weight, it isn't just structured exercise that matters. Your overall activity level contributes significantly to the amount of energy you burn throughout the day. It's referred to as NEAT: Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. While many people try to burn lots of calories through exercise, the calories we burn by just moving more throughout the day can make a huge impact.
Some people naturally activate NEAT and feel more energetic when they eat excess calories. In response, they tend to fidget more and feel the urge to move around more. But some individuals don't activate NEAT in the same way, and rather than burning off the extra energy, it's more likely to be stored as fat.
Some studies suggest that the ability to activate NEAT accounts for the difference between people who can eat similar diets but do not gain weight in the same way. Genetics may account for this. Those who tend to gain more weight show alterations in their hormonal activity, nervous system response, blood sugar response, and hunger/satiety signals. The good news is that behavior can override genetic dispositions.
You may not be the person who naturally can't sit still and always feels the urge to move more throughout the day. However, you can still consciously activate your NEAT by building the habit of moving more. Being more active in general is a painless way to lose excess weight and improve your health in many ways.
Because walking is a simple, low-impact activity, it's something that you can often do in small doses throughout your day. Some people like to track their steps throughout the day, aiming for a particular number goal, usually 10,000 steps. However, you can start seeing positive health results with just 5-7,000 steps. Whether you choose to track steps or not, the goal is to make walking something you naturally do often, without even thinking about it.
By gradually finding more ways to walk during your day, you'll increase your overall activity levels, contributing to your overall calorie burn. You'll also reap several other benefits, such as increased energy, improved mental clarity, better circulation, etc. Here are some ways to get in more walking as you go throughout your day:
1. Take walking breaks. We've all had those moments where we get so caught up in what we're doing that time speeds by, and suddenly we've been sitting for three hours straight. Long, sedentary moments like these make it harder to lose weight and contribute to poor circulation and increase the risk of blood clots. Try setting an alarm on your phone to take regular ten-minute walking breaks throughout the day.
2. Post-meal walks. The perfect time to take a walk is right after a meal. If walking for an hour at a time doesn't appeal to you, then taking a twenty-minute walk after each meal will improve your digestion while also burning calories.
3. Take the stairs. I know; this one has become something of a cliche. But if the goal is to move more, then taking the stairs is the perfect opportunity to work towards that goal. Taking the stairs is more challenging than walking on a flat surface, so your glutes, quadriceps, and core muscles have to work harder, boosting overall energy expenditure. According to Duke University, you can lose up to six pounds in a year simply by climbing two flights of stairs each day.
4. Create a walk-only range. Pick a distance from your home that's challenging yet doable, such as a half-mile or mile. If whatever you need to do is within this distance, choose to walk instead of driving or taking public transportation.
5. Drive partway to your destination. This one's perfect for those events that you're dreading. Park your car a half-mile away (or whatever distance you choose) and walk the rest of the distance. It'll give you time to breathe, calm your mind, and gather yourself before the event.
6. Choose the farthest parking spot. Most people clamor for the parking spots closest to the entrance. Make it a habit to do the opposite: choose a parking spot away from the fray.
7. Take many little trips. It's normal for humans to want to be efficient and conserve energy. That's why we're inclined to try carrying all twenty-five grocery bags at once instead of trying to make multiple trips. But with all the technological advancements we've made over the years, we've become efficient enough not to need to leave the couch much. Because of this, we have to make a conscious effort to move even when we don't necessarily have to. Instead of depriving yourself of movement, try taking in those grocery bags one at a time.
8. Invest in a treadmill desk. If you spend many hours a day on a computer, you probably don't get enough opportunities to move. So why not multitask? This mom of three lost fifty pounds by walking on a treadmill while working. This is an excellent way to painlessly incorporate more movement into your day if you work from home.
9. March in place. Most of us have found ourselves sitting on the couch binge-watching Netflix. Try standing up and marching in place for an episode. Marching in place may seem silly, but it can actually be quite beneficial, and it's much better than sitting still for hours.
10. Go on walking dates. Hanging out with a friend or family member? Instead of just chilling on the couch, why not go for a walk? You can walk when taking long phone calls.
Finding more reasons to walk throughout the day is the perfect way to increase your non-exercise activity. Our modern lifestyles have made it extremely easy not to move and eat way more calories than we need. This disrupts our metabolisms and puts our health at risk. To lose excess weight and promote good health, we need to move more, and walking is the perfect way to do that.
Walking is excellent for your physical, mental, and emotional health. It's also one of the most effective and painless ways to achieve and maintain weight loss. So every couple hours or so, take a moment, stop what you're doing, and walk a little. Not only will you shed excess weight, but you may also find that you're more energized, more positive, and more productive throughout your day.
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Niv Mullings is a Plant-Based Nutrition & Fitness coach from the Bronx, New York, currently residing in Jacksonville, Florida. After years of struggling with obesity, anxiety, depression, painful menstruation, and other chronic health complaints, Niv changed her life for the better through fitness and a healthy plant-based diet. Now she helps others to do the same.