Happy New Year! We are a week into 2020, which means we are a week into our New Year’s resolutions. What did you commit to changing this year? If you’re like many people, you may have resolved to exercise more (it’s predictably one of the top three New Year’s Resolutions each year). But living with a chronic illness or an autoimmune disease can make sticking to a consistent workout routine difficult. Flares happen — muscles ache, joints stiffen, and extreme fatigue and brain fog sets in. The struggle is real! But that doesn’t mean you’re relegated to life on the couch. Even non-exercise activities, or N.E.A.T., produce a thermogenic reaction that raises body temperature and burns calories. How cool — or N.E.A.T. — is that?!
Our bodies expend energy in three ways: exercising, eating/digesting food, and maintaining basic bodily functions, like breathing, pumping blood, generating new cells, and even sleeping. While any form of planned, structured physical activity (i.e., exercise) is best for generating heat and burning calories, all forms of movement are beneficial — even for Autoimmune Sisters. Research has proven that moving our bodies regularly produces endorphins (which combats depression and reduces pain), raises metabolism (which regulated body temperature and helps with weight loss/maintenance), improves energy (which fights fatigue), elevates sleep quality (which provides much-needed rest and recover), enhances brain health (which lowers brain fog), and lessens inflammation (which initiates flares and exacerbates autoimmune conditions).
So what qualifies as a non-exercise activity? Just about anything, really. Cooking, cleaning, shopping, gardening, painting, knitting, … Even laughing and fidgeting count! The list is virtually endless. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Channel your inner Julia Child. Chop, stir, mix, or blend by hand rather than using high-powered kitchen appliances.
- Wiggle while cooking. Tap your foot, bob your head, or do heel raises and leg lifts while the veggies cook or the chicken bakes. After all, a watched pot never boils.
- PRO TIP: Use the oven or microwave timer as your cue to squat, jog in place, do counter push-ups, or dance while cooking and baking.
- Nix the dishwasher. Hand-wash the dishes, rinse the glasses, scrub the pots and pans, and while you’re at it, sweep away all those crumbs, too.
- Pack up the holiday decorations and take down the lights. All that bending, stretching, and packing gets the heart rate up.
- Take a cue from Marie Kondo. Clean out your closets, drawers, and garage. Donating brings joy, and less clutter means less stress — two great bonus benefits!
- Become a laundry room Jane Fonda. Instead of sitting on the couch to fold laundry in front of the TV, leave clothes in the dryer and squat down repeatedly to pull each piece out one by one.
- Strike up the band. Got a drum set or even just a pair of wooden spoons? Take a cue from your kids: Bang away and make some noise.
- Don’t sit idly by. Walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike while watching TV, reading, or scrolling social media. Pace, twist, or twirl your hair while you’re talking on the phone or waiting on hold.
- Walk the dog, play with your kids, color, paint, dance it out … Whatever floats your boat, go ahead and do it!
- Stand up. Trade in your desk for a standing desk or treadmill desk.
- Engage your core. Swap your desk chair for a new stability ball chair.
- Stretch. Do a few minutes of chair yoga or basic stretches every time you switch tasks.
- Move around. Put that conference call on speaker and pace, squat, or curl light dumbbells while you listen.
- Walk to a colleague’s office instead of emailing or texting.
- Make your next meeting a walking meeting. Bonus points if you can take it outside!
- Use a smaller water bottle or tea mug, and walk to the kitchen to fill it up more frequently.
- PRO TIP: Set a series of timers on your phone as a reminder to move for 5-10 minutes every hour.
Out in the world
- Park further away from the door.
- Skip the elevator and use the stairs more often.
- Carry a hand basket rather than push a shopping cart.
- PRO TIP: Rather than scrolling Instagram while sitting at the doctor’s office, waiting on line, or pumping gas, take (small) action. Tap your foot, sway to the music, bob your head, make arm circles, march in place, squat, do toe raises or leg lifts, twist side to side, etc.
The idea is to increase your daily non-exercise activity to compensate when a full-on sweat session isn’t an option. If a flare happens or life gets in the way, take the time you need to rest and recover. Get in a few good belly laughs watching your favorite comedy or YouTube video (laughing is a form of N.E.A.T.). Then, when you’re ready, get up and move in some small way. Remember, less is sometimes more, and something is always better than nothing.
Author’s disclaimer: I am not a doctor or registered dietitian. The words and views shared herein are mine alone, based on personal experience and interpretation of current, available research. The purpose of this article is to educate and motivate readers to make their own health and wellness decisions after consulting with their own health care provider(s). It should not be taken as medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult your physician to insure tips given are appropriate for your individual circumstances.