When you're motivated to achieve a fitness goal...
You will quite rightly make a plan to reach that goal, based, hopefully, around the key components of any programme;
the relevant major lifestyle factors (eg. reducing drinking/smoking)
Focusing on workouts...
The objectives may be to...
burn calories (fat loss goal)
increase your metabolic rate
increase mobility and flexibility
improve sport related components etc etc...
That would usually take approx 1 hour...
If you have a routine that consists of, lets say, 3 workouts per week...
3 hours in a 168 hour week...
Assuming that those workouts are effective, they are of course essential to the successful achievement of your goal.
It still only represents 1.79% of your week.
Meaning that you have still got 98.21% of your week, where you may not be contributing towards your progress.
Yes you are spending a third (hopefully) of that time asleep...
(Although there is still plenty that you can do to improve your sleep quality and quantity, which often has a positive knock-on effect on exercise and nutrition).
But the point is...
Your workouts represent a VERY small proportion of the time that you have available.
And what you do with the remaining time, could make or break your ability to achieve the health & fitness results that you want.
A fundamental part of a fat loss programme, will be ensuring that you are achieving a consistent calorie deficit.
That doesn't have to be a dramatic deficit.
(Although that depends on your goals, the timescale that you want to achieve those goals in, and balancing these factors with the need for your programme to be as consistent and as sustainable as possible)...
But that deficit does need to be achieved.
So you have three options...
1) Eat fewer calories (restrictive, unpleasant and largely unsustainable - not the best option unless it's clear that you are eating excessively AND unhealthily, in which case removing unhealthy foods may be necessary)
2) Burn more calories (burning hundreds/thousands of additional calories during workouts alone is not as easy, or efficient, as you may think)
3) A combination of the two.
It's likely that you have already (unsuccessfully?) tried dieting.
Significantly reducing calorie intake alone (New Year, before a holiday etc) can be done for short periods with enough willpower.
It rarely works as a long-term strategy.
At some point you're going to realise that it might be easier, more realistic and more sustainable to increase your energy output (either with or without a gradual reduction in calories where appropriate).
Obviously those 1 hour workouts help here.
You will be burning more calories, while consciously exercising, than at pretty much any other time.
But over the course of a whole week, that may still not be enough.
A common mistake is to blame the workouts themselves...
"I'm not doing the right exercises"...
"I'm not working hard enough"
Or blame your diet...
"I have to eliminate carb's/fat etc"...
"I need more supplements!"...
But think about it logically...
As we said, even if you make your workout 'perfect'...
You're still only addressing that 1.79% of the week.
Wouldn't it make more sense to make the most of the other 98.21%?
How much of that time are you currently spending sitting?
when seeing friends/family
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis
Your body is always burning energy.
You’ll be acutely aware of this when you’re exercising.
But even when you are doing 'nothing', your body requires a steady supply of energy to maintain various processes;
the cardiovascular system (heart and lung function)
muscle contractions (eg. digestion, balance and posture)
cell growth and repair (including muscle cells post-exercise)
the functioning of your nervous system
Those vital processes make up your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR).
BMR typically accounts for more than half of your total energy expenditure everyday.
(There are various methods of increasing your BMR too).
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis refers to the energy burned by any moving around or physical activity throughout the day (not including deliberate exercise, hence the name).
N.E.A.T should account for approx 15-20% of your total daily energy use.
In other words, if you are failing to add any significant movement in during your day, you may well be reducing your energy expenditure by a massive 20%.
And that’s still true even if you’re theoretically doing the right thing by consciously exercising…
Remember, your ‘exercise calories’ and your ‘N.E.A.T calories’ are two different things. Just because you are "training" for 60 minutes, doesn’t mean that you have a valid excuse for ignoring this key component.
Most people, due to modern living, do not move as much as they probably believe.
Analyse your daily movement carefully...
How much are you really doing?
The majority of you who read this, could, and should, be doing more...
Increase Your "Non-Exercise Activity"
1. Walk More
Ideally, any journey less than 1 mile should be on foot (or bike).
That's just 30 minutes of walking at an average walking speed.
Track your daily step count too.
A good target is 10,000 steps per day (approx 5 miles)...
That burns ~500 calories...
Which is 3500 calories per week...
Which is the same number of calories stored in 1lb of fat.
(You don't actually lose precisely 1.00lbs of fat in real life, but it's still a nice way to think about it).
2. Reduce Public Transport Use
If you use public transport, especially in big cities where the distance between stops is relatively short, try to get on the Tube/Bus one stop after your usual stop and/or get off one stop early.
It only adds a little time to your commute and easily integrates a healthy habit into your day.
3. Use a Standing Desk
How much time do you spend sitting while at work?
An 8 hour day at work represents approx 50% of your day (minus when you're sleeping).
So although you may still not feel like you are doing much by standing still...
The difference between standing and sitting for such a large proportion of your day will make a big difference.
Not only can you increase your energy expenditure by standing...
But you will counteract the major problems caused being in a sitting position for that amount of time;
weakened core muscles
tightened hip flexors
poor neck posture
weakened glute muscles
removal of any need for your body to (muscles) to self-stabilise.
4. Sit Properly And/Or Support Your Own Weight
When sitting at the desk, you'll probably catch yourself doing one (or both) of two things...
slouching, sitting with generally poor posture
using the desk (worse) or the chair (better) to support your weight
You already know how you should be sitting...
Harming your body through poor posture is bad enough...
But by not supporting your own bodyweight (safely or not), you remove the need for your stabilising muscles to contract.
If you can support your own weight (just like when using the standing desk), you re-engage those supporting muscles.
As an alternative to sitting in a standard desk chair, consider a 'posture kneeler' chair or, if you're feeling more adventurous, a gym/stability ball.
Both will encourage you to stabilise your own body using your muscles, as opposed to relying on a chair or falling into bad posture habits.
You'll burn more energy AND strengthen your core muscles at the same time!
5. Schedule Movement Breaks
Plan regular breaks during whatever you are doing for the day, for movement and stretching.
Physically write down a schedule and keep it in view on your desk... we all know we don't do the things we merely say we're going to do.
Not only does the movement contribute further to your energy expenditure...
You'll benefit form the increased flexibility that comes with the regular stretching...
Plus movement breaks have been proven to increase concentration, mood and productivity.
So even if you think you're "too busy" to take a break, you really have no excuses.
6. Contract Your Muscles
Your muscles are there to be used.
Randomly contracting/tensing muscles throughout the day (eg. glutes) will not only increase the energy that you burn, but will reinforce your need to reserve muscle mass ("use it or lose it"), and as an added bonus, will help you become more 'in-tune' with your body...
eg. if you have low muscle tone/weak glutes, contracting them on a regular basis will help to stimulate the nervous system and in turn increase the tone in the muscle.
7. Use The Stairs
Stairs instead of elevators...
Yes it is cliche...
BUT hardly anybody actually does it!
So we have to continue giving out this piece of advice.
This includes walking DOWN the stairs too...
If you are intimidated by the idea of climbing lots of stairs immediately...
Start with just skipping the elevator on the way down.
Build up your stair climbing stamina more gradually if necessary.
The improvement in your cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance will have other significant benefits for your overall health and fitness!
8. Walk To & From The Shops
If you can carry your shopping home.. do it.
The human body evolved to be optimal for a hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
Your muscles, bones, even the ability to stand upright and walk on two feet (bipedal)...
Specifically allow you to go out, find food, and carry it home.
By driving for 5 minutes to the supermarket, so that you can avoid carrying two bags of shopping, you completely remove that natural movement that your body has evolved to perform.
9. Go Out For Lunch
Make the most of your lunch break.
Get outside and walk.
Either deliberately planning to go to the shops to buy food, or, if you are into meal-prepping, take it outside anyway (weather permitting of course).
For most people, the commute to work, plus the working day itself is largely sedentary.
In a physical sense, you don't need a "break".
You might feel mentally drained*...
But making the extremely small walk to the break room, to once again sit down, or even worse... remaining at your desk, eliminates a big opportunity for movement.
*Light exercise, fresh air and exposure to daylight have all been shown to improve mood, concentration and alertness... so the idea that you should be "resting" by sitting indoors is false anyway.
10. Wake Up Your Body Everyday With A Morning Routine
Even if you're not a morning person... you obviously have no choice but to wake up on time for work.
That can feel like a chore and those first few hours are not necessarily going to be a case of feeling at your best.
So why not design a routine that helps to wake you up while burning some extra calories as a bonus?
joint mobility exercises
These are just some examples of things that you could add to your routine...
Use some trial & error to find out what feels good for you and helps you start the day with a little more energy.
Bonus: If you can get outside and expose yourself to some daylight nice and early, you will feel the added benefit of feeling more awake throughout the day and improve your sleep quality during the following night.
11. Find Ways To Make Life LESS Convenient
As a society, we are fatter, sicker and lazier than ever before...
Arguably, the main reason for this, is that our lives have simply become TOO easy.
You don't have to hunt for food
You don't even have to cook your own food if you choose to have meals delivered regularly
you can drive, or be driven, anywhere
you have access to more TV than you could possibly ever watch
and much more...
Ultimately, you don't really have to do very much physical activity.
Technology has made it possible to outsource almost everything that you would have had to do for yourself decades/centuries ago.
And the effect on your health and fitness is potentially disastrous.
So try to look for ways to voluntarily take some of that convenience away.
if you're going for a walk, take a fairly heavy bag that you don't need, just to make it more physically demanding
walk to collect take-away instead of ordering to be delivered
take longer routes than necessary
There are countless ways of making life a little less convenient...
You just have to look out for them.
12. Record & Monitor Your Activity
All of the above are more likely to be successful if you track and record your activity levels...
FitBit, Apple watch, phone apps etc can be used to monitor steps, calories, heart rates and more...
As with any new habit, if you simply state your good intentions and then 'hope for the best', your progress is going to break down as you will almost certainly get distracted from your goal before the habit is ingrained.
Non-exercise activity should account for ~20% of your daily energy expenditure.
If you are aiming to achieve fat loss (via an overall daily calorie deficit)...
Optimising your daily activity levels could literally be the difference between success and failure.
Yes, your workouts are still vital.
Doing some extra walking everyday does not excuse you from turning up and exercising 'properly' throughout the week.
But equally, don't fall into the trap of assuming that 3-4 hours of exercise per week is the whole solution when it comes to effective weight loss and/or maintenance.