Exercise: Think Outside the Box!


We all can agree that exercise is important to our health. As a wellness counselor in my previous Mayo Clinic career, I counseled people all day about exercise, often getting groans and sighs in response. To many people, the word “exercise” conjures up images and memories of huffing, panting, sweating, and feeling miserable. We do want to include getting a cardiovascular and stretching/strengthening workout into our routine. But this blog isn’t going to address exercise in this sense. This blog’s focus is on another important component of physical activity called Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT). NEAT is a term coined by Dr. James Levine, a Mayo Clinic obesity researcher and a man I was privileged with working with for a year. NEAT includes all the activities we do throughout the day that increases our heart rates and burns calories. NEAT is an important component of exercise as well. This blog is a challenge for you to increase your NEAT in traditional ways and find new and more fun ways to increase your NEAT.

Most of you have heard of the popular ways for increasing your NEAT. Do you park your car further away from the store to get some extra steps in? Do you take the stairs instead of the elevator even if it’s one flight only? Do you stand, stretch or pace during meetings? Do you store common household items in a less convenient spots to get some extra walking steps in? Do you walk to the store instead of driving when you’re picking up a few items? Do you wear a pedometer and challenge yourself to get in 10,000 steps? These are fantastic ways to increase your NEAT.

For me, I’m seeing childhood obesity becoming more prevalent from generation to generation. As a mental health professional, I understand the damage we can do to children by focusing on body image. Here are some new ways I’ve incorporated NEAT into my life and the lives of my grandchildren with the focus being on fun versus weight loss. We can do these things and more by ourselves or include friends, partners or pets.

I don’t take “traditional walks” anymore with my grandchildren. When we move from one place to another, we hop from sidewalk slab to slab or store tile to tile. We zig-zag our way to our destination. We walk up and down the snow piles outside along with way. We share earbuds and sing and dance while we walk. We don’t sit still while we wait – we sing, move our arms and wiggle. We bring a grocery bag with us when we walk and pick up trash – more zig-zagging on our journey and stretching our muscles while we stoop to pick up garbage. We invent silly walks – long strides, “tall walks”, bring-our-knees-up-high steps, stooping strides – stretching and moving more along our way. We walk two steps forward and one step backward to our destination. We walk up the down escalator and down the up escalator – though I caution you that you will get scolded by the store manager if you get caught. My goal isn’t purposeful exercise with my grand kids. My goal is to increase their (your) awareness of NEAT, incorporate NEAT into our lifestyles, and most importantly having fun. The best calories that we burn of all is from laughing while we do what we do. My grand kids and their friends call me “Crazy Grandma.” That’s okay by me. If increasing our NEAT seems crazy, I think that’s pretty neat!

If you are interested in learning more about NEAT, Google Dr. James Levine. He’s a dynamic, inspiring guy that wants to change the way we think and move in our homes, classrooms and offices. Check out these resources below!