Constant motion is something that comes naturally to kids. But as we grow older, many of us lose touch with that natural instinct to move. That doesn’t mean the desire is gone; it just needs a little kindling.
Made to Move
Before I vowed to stop talking about losing weight, I read this book Move a Little, Lose a Lot by Dr. James A. Levine. Although my focus has shifted away from weight-loss, I still think Levine makes a valid argument about how we are meant to live. Humans were not made to sit all day every day; we were made to move. When we stop moving, we start getting tired, sick, and overweight.
So what should we do? Move as much as possible during the day! Levine says there shouldn’t be an hour of the day when you’re sitting still. “It’s time to live just as you were meant to live… on your feet.”
A Life in Motion
When it comes to movement, it’s the little things that count. “Nonexercise activity thermogenesis” (NEAT) is all the movement you do during the day that isn’t strenuous exercise. It’s the energy you burn living your life—washing dishes, cooking supper, taking out the garbage, letting the dog out, bathing, walking to the mailbox, etc.
So how much do you move during your waking hours? Do you drive to work or school, sit all day, drive home, and sit all night? If your work requires you to be on your feet throughout the day, do you sit all evening and night when you get home? Or if you are at home all day, how much time do you spend sitting? Start paying attention to your daily movement, and you may find you don’t move as much as you thought you did!
The more you sit, the more you will want to sit. If you feel like you are too tired to move, you might just need to move more. And the more you move, the more you will want to move! While exercise wears you out, NEAT is actually energizing. Increasing your daily movement is simple—all you have to do is get up and go.
Set reasonable goals for yourself that are enjoyable and sustainable. You can plan and schedule your NEAT activities, or simply ask yourself each day, “What do I feel like doing right now that will keep me off my butt and on my feet?” Make movement part of your daily routine. Even if you have force yourself to get up and start moving, keep repeating those activities until they become habit. Soon, you won’t have to force yourself to do anything—you’ll just be doing what comes naturally.
Use what you’ve already got to help you get going; you’d probably be surprised by the number of useful tools you have lying around your house and garage! Consider investing in other items that will encourage movement. Yard sales and thrift stores are a good place to start, and watch for sales at the stores you frequent.
Comfortable walking shoes are a necessity. Inclement weather gear (snow boats, rain coat, etc.) is definitely worth the investment. Games and gadgets like an mp3 player or kindle/tablet can make moving more enjoyable. Bicycles, stability balls, yoga mats, free weights, pull-up bars, mini-trampolines, etc., are all reasonably priced and handy to have around. If you can afford a decent piece of exercise equipment, like a treadmill, stepper, stationary bike, etc., go for it! Request gear, equipment, and gadgets for your birthday or Christmas—I’m so glad I did!
Increase Your NEAT
- If you can stand or walk and do it, then do! Read, write, type, eat, talk on the phone, text, surf the web, watch TV—do them all while standing, walking, or pacing. (I typed this entire blog post standing at my kitchen counter.)
- Drive less, walk or bike more. Walk or bike to school or work.
- Don’t let winter get you down—bundle up and brave the cold! Moving keeps you warm.
- Play in the snow! Sledding is the best.
- If you work at a desk, consider getting a stand-up desk, stability ball, under-desk minicycle, step or stepper for your office. At the very least, get up and move every hour—stretch, do a few jumping jacks, whatever.
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Meet a friend for a walk every morning and/or take a family walk every evening.
- Park farther away from entrances.
- Walk or bike on your lunch break.
- Play yard games, board games, and sports with your friends and family.
- Play with your kiddos—fly kites, play tag, ride bikes, go for a hike, jump in the leaves, play in the snow, run through the sprinkler, go to the playground.
- Gardening, yardwork, shoveling snow.
- Go to museums, zoos, festivals, galleries, and science centers.
- Shopping or window shopping.
- Sewing, knitting, crocheting, wood work, instruments—it’s all movement and better than just sitting.
- Got a dog? Take him for a walk or play fetch.
- Cooking and baking from scratch.
- Housework, chores, cleaning, organization.
- Home improvement and do-it-yourself projects.
- Hobbies galore: fishing, hunting, gardening, golf, archery, tennis, yoga, swimming, kayaking, hiking, geo-caching, bowling, spelunking, snow sports, water sports, etc. The possibilities are endless!
- You can exercise if you want to. Exercise is a great, healthy habit. I do actual workouts sometimes when I’m bored and have energy to burn. Workout DVDs, books, and YouTube videos provide lots of variety. My kids love the book 303 Kid-Approved Exercises & Active Games (there’s books for preschoolers and tweens, too!).
- Keep in mind that exercise is not a substitute for NEAT activity. Working out does very little for your health if you are inactive the rest of the day. Levine says, “Even if you work out at the gym four or five times a week for an hour, you will not undo the damage you’re doing to your body through 8 or 10 hours of sitting on your butt each day.”
- Exercise in moderation with adequate rest, recovery, and nourishment. Don’t exercise on an empty stomach, when you are tired, or for longer than 60 minutes. Eat carbs and salt with a bit of fat and protein within 30 minutes post-workout.
- I recently read that, based on our circadian rhythm, the best time to exercise is between 10 AM and 3 PM, and that you should avoid working out first thing in the morning or late at night (The Female Body Blueprint by Josh & Jeanne Rubin).
- Be cautious about intensity and frequency of workouts; over-exercising can be just as damaging to your health as inactivity.
- If you are an avid exerciser, be sure to watch for symptoms of metabolic slow down: low body temperature, cold hands and feet, frequent urination/clear urine, fatigue, insomnia/trouble falling asleep or staying asleep/waking between 3-5 AM. If you start to experience these symptoms, you might need to take a break from exercise to recuperate and refeed.
Listen to your body.
It’s okay to relax. If you are physically exhausted or sore from standing and moving all day, take it easy. Rest is important, too!
Local readers are welcome to borrow my copy of Dr. James Levine’s Move a Little, Lose a Lot. Want your own? You can get a great used copy for a few bucks at AbeBooks!
Check out my follow-up post Movement Resources!