(Chester County Moms)

For years, we have been told of the benefits of physical activity...people who exercise live longer and healthier lives than people who don't. This message has always been based on structured exercise at a moderate or vigorous level for at least 30 minutes, five days per week.

While this type of intense exercise has HUGE health benefits, a growing amount of evidence is suggesting that accumulating short bouts of low-intensity activity daily can also have substantial health benefits. This low-intensity activity is known as N.E.A.T. or Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.

"Low-intensity activity can be anything that's not sedentary and gets the body moving like walking, gardening, playing with the kids in the yard or just standing," says Trish King, Chester County mother of three and Registered Dietitian.* She adds, "It all counts and the evidence is mounting that N.E.A.T. can burn an average of 330 extra calories per day."

So how can you increase your N.E.A.T. levels? Luckily it's not very hard. We're happy to share a few ideas of how to sneak in some extra activity.

Buy a pedometer.

This is a great way to check your activity level. Each week, try to increase your daily step count by 1,000 steps. (A total of 10,000 steps/day is a healthy goal.) Having step competitions with co-workers or neighbors is a great way to increase your physical activity.

Find excuses to take the stairs.

You don't have to walk up 20 flights of stairs to make it worthwhile, try walking up one flight and down two at work. At home, take smaller armfuls of items up or down the steps so you can increase the number of times you need take the stairs. Build up to more as you feel comfortable.

Active transportation.

Walk or bike to work or when running errands. If you must drive, park as far from the door as possible.

Have "walk" meetings.

Think of all the times you need to have a 5-10 minute chat with a co-worker or fellow school volunteer. Instead of doing it at a desk or the kitchen table, take a casual stroll.

Walk at lunch time.

A 10- to 20-minute walk on a daily basis can add up over time.

The overall goal of N.E.A.T. or any exercise at any level is to simply move more. The more you move, the more calories you burn. The more calories you burn daily, the more you are able to work toward or maintain a healthy body weight.

[N.E.A.T. is the scientific term for energy expended during everyday activities, not including sleeping, eating or sports-oriented exercise. The N.E.A.T. concept is attributed to the research of James S. Levine, MD, PhD, of the Mayo Clinic.]

* Trish King, RD, CDE, is a Nutrition and Diabetes Educator for The Chester County Hospital and Health System. A resident of Chester County, she is a mother of three children. While her older boys - ages 10 and 12 - are playing baseball, Trish gets in her extra steps by chasing her youngest - age 3 - on the sideline.

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