The importance of physical fitness has been known for a very long time. Most people have heard about physical fitness (often referred to as physical activity or exercise) in one way or another. With that in mind, most people know that they need to exercise or be more active, but often fail to meet the standard guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. That is the minimum suggested amount of moderate activity by the way. The reason why so many people don’t meet their activity needs each week is endless: work, pain, don’t like activity, busy schedules/families, or they don’t know what to do. As a health coach here at ExercisAbilities I have come to realize that time, work, pain, or whatever reason people give is valid, but I believe a lot of people’s inability to get fit comes from a misunderstanding of what it means to be fit.
As a culture, the word “Fit” has been hijacked. Magazines, social media, professional sports, and advertisements have all sold us on the idea of what fitness is. In general, these platforms are not wrong in the sense that fitness can be going to the gym each day, lifting weights, running, and food prepping. This however is only one of the many ways to live a fit and healthy life. Since this is the lens through which the idea of fitness is often viewed, people often feel overwhelmed and confused about where to start. They often find themselves asking questions like “how will I have time to go to the gym” or “where do I find the motivation to get started”? When we start to feel overwhelmed, or the health changes we are working on begin to stress us out, we will often fall back on old habits, usually the habits that we are trying to change. Plus, not everybody feels comfortable at the gym or wants to go. So, what do we do if we want to improve our health but aren’t interested in going to the gym? We should live fit rather than trying to be fit.
When I say that we should live fit, I am referring to the idea of fitness not through the gym or from a workout DVD, but through our day-to-day activities. For most of human history, humans have been fit because of the demands of their daily lives. Hunters and gathers would spend hours standing, walking, bending, and running. When humans started to farm, we spent most of our time tilling the land and tending to our herds and fields. It is only recently that life for a human on a day-to-day basis has become less physically active. So does this mean we should trade in our pens for a spear and go live in the wild? Well, you can if you want to, but I like most of us enjoy the comforts of modern life. So, what can we do to be more active and fit like our ancestors, despite having jobs that don’t require a whole lot of activity? This is where the N.E.A.T principle comes in.
N.E.A.T stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis. The idea behind N.E.A.T is to find ways of adding activity into your already existing routine. An example would be disabling your garage door opener, so you must get in and out of your car to get into your garage. Another example of N.E.A.T would something as simple as standing more at work or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. The trick is to think about the different parts of the day and find moments where you can add in some physical movement. Think about all the different routines you have each day from waking up, getting ready for work, being at work, and then getting home from work. There are literally hundreds of moments for you to increase your movement throughout the day; you just need to find them!
Now some of you may be thinking, how will this help me become more fit? Well, look at it like this: Fitness can often be looked at like a pie (a bit ironic I know). A lot of people try to get all their fitness in, in 1-2 hours a day. Which is like trying to eat the whole pie in 2-3 bites. Sure, it will get the job done, but that can be a lot to chew. Instead, what if you took several small bites of the pie all day long? Dancing while brushing your teeth, a bit of standing at work, a couple of 10 minutes walks around the office, and a game of tag with your kids after work. Not only is this form of fitness easier to stomach (no pun intended), but it can often feel much less overwhelming. It might not seem like much but do the math. Two minutes of dancing while brushing your teeth, 10 minutes of walking at work, and 15 minutes of tag with your family. That’s a total of 27 minutes of moderate physical activity for the day. If you were to do that every day you would get a total of 189 minutes of activity for the week. That’s 39 more minutes than the minimum recommended amount! How N.E.A.T is that?
So if you aren’t a fan of going to the gym, or want to take smaller steps to get healthy, give N.E.A.T a try. Remember getting fit doesn’t have to be a challenge when we actively try to live fit.
-Zach Curry, CPT & Certified Lifestyle Coach, Therapeutic Health Specialist II-ExercisAbilities