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Moving Through Life

Daily Motion Adds Up to Fitness

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Exercise is often associated with the gym or yoga studio, but structured workouts aren’t the only way to keep physically and mentally fit. Whether regulating blood pressure, avoiding obesity or promoting brain health, regular movement throughout the day yields promising benefits. Research shows that small changes in routine tasks—from house cleaning to grocery shopping—can make quick and lasting improvements in overall health.

Burn Calories Without the Workout

Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) burns calories by keeping us moving throughout the day. “In essence, NEAT is how we use our bodies when we’re not doing a specific exercise or sitting still,” says San Diego’s Pete McCall, author of Smarter Workouts: The Science of Exercise Made Simple.

Over time, doing simple things can add up, like getting off the couch to refill a glass of water or shoveling snow from the driveway. According to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, everyday activity outside of traditional exercise might be even more beneficial than an hour at the gym.

“Staying active throughout the day helps regulate hormones like insulin, which help metabolize carbohydrates to be used for fuel, and enzymes like lipoprotein lipase (LPL), which help release free fatty acids for muscle activity. Remaining sedentary for extended periods can actually lower LPL,” notes McCall, an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer and host of the podcast All About Fitness.

Stringing together lots of small decisions throughout your day and week can add up to significant gains in your strength and cardiovascular system …
~Jeremy Hyatt, personal trainer

Jeremy Hyatt, who owns Hyatt Training, a Portland, Oregon, gym, agrees that exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous or structured to make an impact. “Stringing together lots of small decisions throughout your day and week can add up to significant gains in your strength and cardiovascular system, and in the process, reduce risks for some of our main causes of disease and disability due to metabolic conditions.”

Hyatt suggests staying active by walking the dog after dinner, taking the stairs instead of an elevator and carrying two bags of groceries home from the store or to a distant parking spot. Adding simple body weight movements to everyday chores and tasks can also have a positive effect.

A research study in The Journal of Neuroscience links exercise and neurotransmitter production, offering new hope for depressive disorders in which levels of the brain regulators glutamate and gamma-eminobutyric acid (GAMA) are out of balance.

Bring on the Joy

Opting for activities that are fun and interesting is a surefire way to create a healthier lifestyle. Dancing, for instance, can offer a wide range of benefits, especially for older individuals. That’s why dance is now a significant component in many programs designed to treat depression, addiction and eating disorders.

“We’re never too old, too young, too inflexible, too busy, too anything to dance. The hardest part is just walking into the studio,” says Kat Wildish, a renowned former ballerina and master teacher in New York City.

For those older than 50, dance offers many advantages. “Dance gives us positive stimulus in both physical movement and the mental connection in a non-competitive environment. It has an immediate inverse effect to cortisol and raises serotonin,” says Wildish. “With proper alignment and joint care in mind, dance helps to combat the physical effects of aging such as arthritis, osteoporosis ...”

Researchers at the University of Miami’s Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine found that all types of exercise have been shown to improve thinking processes in older adults. Results of their study, published in Neurology: Clinical Practice, suggest that yoga, aerobic exercise and strength training yield the most significant results over an extended period.

Yet, moving the body regularly and consistently in everyday endeavors is an excellent starting point that can be richly rewarding. “Individuals can start to make quick and lasting changes to their overall health. Start by picking small changes,” says Hyatt.

Wildish agrees that making the decision to begin and keeping it fun is paramount. “Do what you can and stick with it when you find something that brings you joy, even when it’s challenging.”


Marlaina Donato is the author of several books, including Multidimensional Aromatherapy.


This article appears in the January 2019 issue of Natural Awakenings.

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