Skip the Gym … and Burn More Calories

Here’s some health news we can all smile about: Little everyday activities can add up to big-time calorie burners. That’s right, you really can get fitter without ever stepping foot in a gym.

Intense workout programs are, well, intense. And time-consuming. (At least we certainly find it hard to get to the gym during busy days.) But being fitter is actually easier (not to mention cheaper) when you focus on doing just one small thing: moving more all day long.

Of course, if you’re like most people, you’re in a chair for large chunks of time—perhaps eight to 10 hours a day. But by making a conscious effort to spend more time on your feet from the moment you get out of bed until you hit the pillow again at night, you can keep your weight in check and give your health a boost. To put that into numbers for you, 60 minutes of sitting burns between 86 and 129 calories (depending on your size). Stand up for an hour and you’ll whittle away between 114 and 171 calories. But when you hoof it for that hour you’ll torch between 343 and 514 calories.

“Research shows that it’s not the people who exercise the most—think getting sweaty in the gym—who are the leanest,” says Nicole Nichols, fitness expert for the healthy living site sparkpeople.com. “It’s actually the people who are more active throughout the day.”

You can become one of those people simply by taking frequent breaks to get out of your chair and move around. You’ve probably heard you should take the stairs over the elevator or park farther from the grocery store, but you’re also smart to set an hourly alert on your smartphone or computer to remind you that it’s time for a short jaunt (even if it’s just to the water fountain). There’s good reason to do all of these things—namely helping you log 10,000 steps a day, which has been shown to help stave off extra pounds. But increasing evidence also shows a connection between uninterrupted hours of sitting and a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, chronic pain, and more.

So how do you know how many steps you’re taking? A pedometer works well, but we’ve found we get extra motivation from an activity tracker like Fitbit, which tallies steps as well as distance, calories burned, and hours slept. Use your pedometer or activity tracker to challenge yourself to outdo your step count every day. For instance, try squeezing in a Mindful Mile during lunch, or walk down to a coworker’s office to talk, rather than shooting her an e-mail.

Look too for opportunities to make your daily habits more active, like Wendy Mikola, of Powell, Ohio, does. “With three kids and a career, finding time to work out can be tough,” she says. Some of Mikola’s favorite strategies are to walk while talking on the phone, do leg lifts while brushing her teeth, and knock out a few crunches when playing cards with her kids.  You could also try marching in place when commercials come on during your favorite TV shows, or whenever you’re picking something up from the floor, squat down as low as you can and hold that position for a count of 10 before releasing.

Do all of this and you might find that the number on the scale is going down while your fitness is going up—no fancy gym membership or crazy tough workout program required.

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