Have you heard that prolonged sitting can be as bad for health as smoking (Owen, Bauman & Brown 2008)? The good news is that movement can help, and it doesn’t have to be a marathon. One avenue worth exploring is nonexercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). NEAT encompasses the calories burned while living life: walking to work, fidgeting, typing, folding clothes, washing dishes, running errands and so on; only sleeping, eating and sports are not included (Levine & Yeager 2009).

Short, simple NEAT activities increase metabolism while enhancing brain health through physical movement, mental stimulation, stress management and socialization. Try these NEAT activities from Terry Eckmann, PhD, a professor at Minot State University in North Dakota who has more than 30 years’ experience in the fitness industry.

On-the-Spot Brain Boosters

Try the following moves while standing in line at the post office or waiting for a colleague or family member

  • Flex from side to side while standing, arms overhead to increase range of motion.
  • Stretch the chest by clasping your hands behind your back and looking up. Inhale while stretching, and exhale on the release. Repeat several times.
  • Perform squats and lunges.
  • March while standing, feet close to the ground or with high knees.
  • March while seated.
  • Do standing hamstring curls.
  • Shift your weight from side to side by swaying the hips.
  • Stand in tree pose while brushing your teeth.

Seated Brain Boosters

These moves increase blood flow to the brain and engage the muscles to burn a few extra calories.

  • Wiggle or tap the toes and fingers while watching television or sitting at a desk.
  • Stand up and sit down at least every 10–20 minutes (every 5–10 minutes if possible); this boosts metabolism and strengthens the glutes and quads.
  • Stand up and roll the shoulders up and back, one at a time and together.
  • After keyboarding for 5–10 minutes, stop and make circles with both wrists. Open and close the fingers, making a “starfish.” Repeat.
  • If you’ve been sitting awhile and you’re feeling sleepy or your back is tight, stand up and reach your hands to the opposite elbows behind your back. Look right and left.
  • While sitting in a meeting with your legs beneath your desk, subtly lift one leg at a time. Do this several times; then, as you lift, point your toes to the ground and, as you lower, point the toes up.
  • Fidget! The thing that drove your teachers nuts is one of the things that started research on the benefits of NEAT.
  • Give yourself a hand or foot massage.

Social Brain Boosters

The following action steps increase social interaction, which supports brain health.

  • Challenge a friend or co-worker to a 1-minute office plank or desk pushups every day for a week.
  • Walk to talk to a colleague instead of sending a text or email.
  • Walk while you’re on a long phone call.
  • Schedule a walking meeting.
  • March in place while sending a text.