8 little changes that can add up to big results
Remember when you had to walk into the gas station to pay? When delivery pizza wasn’t an option? When you mowed your own lawn? When you had to get off the couch to change the channel? These are just a few of the tasks that are becoming obsolete and depriving us of physical activity. If you add up all the extra calories you could burn just from doing a few things that involve actually moving, you could lose up to 38 lb in a year!
If you’re using all that extra free time that these devices are affording you to take long walks, ride your bike, or in some way regularly exercise—great. But let’s be realistic: Most of us are spending those hours sitting in a car or slouched in front of a computer or TV.
“Most people don’t realize how very sedentary their life has become,” says Steven N. Blair, PED (physical education doctor), director of research at The Cooper Institute in Dallas. According to Dr. Blair, a major (and often unrecognized) reason for the widening waistlines of Americans is this “gradual ratcheting down of daily life activity.” The average adult expends about 300 to 700 fewer calories per day than her parents did, he says.
The good news is that adding simple activity back into your daily life is an easy, effective way to shape up, burn calories, and get healthy. A Cooper Institute study found that lifestyle activities such as climbing stairs and parking your car in the farthest space offer benefits similar to those gained in a gym workout.
Here are eight more simple ways to bump up your activity level—and burn calories.
1. Take yourself off cruise control. Increase the intensity of your everyday tasks, from vacuuming to walking the dog, recommends Douglas Brooks, an exercise physiologist and personal trainer in Northern, CA. “Turn on some music, add in some vigorous bursts, and enjoy the movement,” he says.
2. Step it up—and down. Climbing stairs is a great leg strengthener, because you’re lifting your body weight against gravity. In addition to taking the stairs at every opportunity, try stepping up and down on the curb while you’re waiting for the bus or filling your gas tank, says Brooks.
3. Put a pen between your shoulder blades. You’ll burn calories (and look thinner) when you stand tall. To improve posture, Taylor-Kevin Isaacs, an exercise physiologist and professor at California State University, Northridge, recommends the following shoulder girdle crunch: Stand or sit with your arms relaxed at your sides, palms facing forward. Visualize a pen placed vertically between your shoulder blades, and squeeze them together as if you were trying to hold the pen in place. Hold for a count of 6, relax, and repeat 12 times. (Check out these 7 weird ways bad posture messes with your health.)
4. Think of bags as dumbbells. When you let someone else load your groceries or carry your suitcase, you’re missing a great opportunity for strengthening and calorie burning, says certified coach Beth Rothenberg, who teaches a class for fitness professionals at UCLA. “Carry your groceries, balanced with a bag in each hand, even if you have to make several trips,” she says. “And pack two smaller suitcases instead of one big one, so you can carry them yourself.”
5. Have a ball. Replace your desk chair with a giant exercise ball, says Cedric X. Bryant, PhD, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise in San Diego, where many staffers have adopted this idea. “You have to engage the core muscles to maintain stability,” he says, “so you’re getting a great workout right at your desk.” (Find the best exercise ball for you with workout tools for maximum firming.)
6. Go the distance. “Stop using the closest rest room, parking space, or vending machine,” says Minneapolis fitness trainer Sandra Swami. As the instructor of a program that’s designed to help working women get more active, Swami urges her clients to get in the habit of taking the longest route to the rest room (on a different floor, if that’s possible) and climb stairs to get there.
7. Do chair-robics. Set a timer to ring hourly, advises Swami. “When it goes off, stand up, and sit down slowly four times,” she says. “This will boost circulation and give you a nice stretch, and you’ll be doing 4 squats an hour, or 32 a day. That’s a great way to strengthen your lower body.”
8. Play waiting games. Don’t just sit there while your computer is downloading or the copier is collating. Do a stretch (place both hands behind your head, open your elbows, and lean back), try balancing on one leg, or do a few buttocks squeezes.