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The next person who implores you, “Don’t just sit there!” might be your doctor. Research shows that being sedentary for long stretches might be one of the unhealthiest things we do each day — even if we regularly exercise.

A 2009 study of more than 17,000 Canadian adults published in the May 2009 issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that prolonged sitting is associated with numerous health risks, including cardiovascular disease. Another study, published in the January 2011 Journal of the American College of Cardiology, reviewed 4,500 cases from the Scottish Health Survey and found that participants who spent two or more hours idling in front of a screen each day double their risk of heart attack. Surprisingly, both studies found that regular exercise didn’t counteract the damages caused by being sedentary.

The solution, say researchers, is NEAT: non-exercise activity thermogenesis, a term coined by obesity researcher James Levine, MD, PhD, for all the incidental movement you do throughout the day that isn’t formal exercise.

NEAT is also code for “get out of your chair and walk around as often as possible.” You’ve heard this advice before: Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Take breaks from sitting every 20 minutes. Walk down the hall to talk to a coworker instead of sending her an email.

There are countless ways to incorporate more NEAT into your life. Here are a few ideas to get you moving.

Some NEAT Ways to Get Moving

  1. Buy a fitness-tracking device: Getting a real-time play-by-play of how much you move each day can be incredibly motivating. Try it out, and before long you will be striving to reach your new personal best.
  2. Take up a new hobby: It doesn’t have to be a terrifically active one. Learn the harmonica, play a board game, or do a jigsaw puzzle. Yep, even the small motions you’d make sorting the edge pieces from the middle pieces can make a difference.
  3. Drink water: This advice from Travis Saunders, MSc, who writes for the Public Library of Science blog Obesity Panacea, keeps you hopping up to refill your drink — and getting up to go to the bathroom, which isn’t exactly optional!
  4. Transform TV time: Next time you settle in to watch your favorite show, don’t settle in all the way. Pick an activity that will keep you moving — folding clothes, ironing, dusting the mantel — but still allows you to focus on the plot twists and turns.
  5. Give up a few conveniences: Skip the Roomba this week and push your vacuum cleaner instead. Same applies to the leaf blower, electric mixer, and clothes dryer. Hang your clothes outside: You’ll get extra activity (and some vitamin D). 

 Quick Facts

Being sedentary has been linked to:

  • 49% greater risk of dying prematurely
  • 112% increase in type 2 diabetes risk
  • 147% increase in cardiovascular disease risk

-Source: 2012 study led by Emma Wilmot, PhD, a research fellow at the University of Leicester in England

The second you sit down:

  • Calorie consumption drop to 1 calorie burnt per minute
  • Enzyme activity that helps break down fat drops by 90%
  • Electrical activity in the leg muscles shuts off

-Source: Medical Billing & Coding

The average American reports spending:

  • 2.8 hours/day watching TV
  • 6.5 hours/day standing or walking
  • 7.7 hours/day sleeping
  • 9.3 hours/day sitting

-Source: Medical Billing & Coding and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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