We've all read those magazine blurbs telling us we can drop 10 pounds by the end of the year if we just do things like getting up to change the channel instead of using the remote, or doing calf-lifts under our desks at work. But does doing these kind of exercises actually work?
Sort of. Those tiny metabolic boosts -- taking the stairs, parking a little farther away from the grocery store, vacuuming the house -- are what's called "incidental exercise." When we walk to a colleague's cubicle to have a chat (instead of e-mailing) or get down on our hands and knees to scrub the bathtub, we're burning calories but not on the scale of, say, a 45-minute session on the elliptical.
But, she says, "I don't think it's something you can lose weight or maintain your weight" if incidental exercise is the only fitness you're getting. "It's something more like establishing a habit."
Minervino recommends her clients do any stretching or exercising when they can, just to keep their brains focused on their physicality. Butt-squeezes in your desk chair and ab-tightening when you're driving are a couple of ways to give your muscles some attention.
Dr. Stuart Erner, of Capital Region Progressive Medicine and Longevity Practice, is a bariatric and weight-loss specialist who's practiced in Albany, N.Y., Westport and Boston. He says incidental exercise has very little effect on those who have a lot of weight to lose.
"This is not to say that incidental exercise doesn't have a role, but I think the media tends to perhaps, at times, overhype it," Erner says. "I don't get overexcited about it."
People looking to lose more than 30 pounds are going to find incidental exercise of "very little value," he says. Those people are in need of a healthy nutrition plan and regimented exercise routine. For those who are slightly more within their weight range or who are looking just to maintain their weight, incidental exercise can "prevent you from gaining more weight ¦ and keep that weight off."
That's not to say, though, that every bit doesn't help, Erner says. But "as a primary tool for weight loss, I think we have a tendency to overemphasize" the effects of incidental exercise.
Minervino says the major benefit of incidental exercise is "connecting the muscles that you're using to your mind."
"Any of those exercises we're talking about -- squats while you're doing nothing, doing the dishes by hand instead of putting them in the dishwasher -- it seems like it adds up," Minervino says. "It helps with creating fitness habits for people who don't have any habits at all."
Our experts offered various tips and suggestions for tiny exercises to keep your body active while stuck in the office, plopped on the couch or generally trying to make the most of your time. These are meant primarily to keep your body from stalling out and programming your body to move muscles and your brain to be thinking about keeping your body moving.
Use that spare minute
Give your energy a little burst; take a free minute or two and do some squats in your cubicle or in your living room during commercial breaks.
Our experts tell us fidgeters on average burn anywhere from 50 to 75 calories more per day than non-fidgeters.
Sit up straight
Sit straight and try to maintain the position. You'll find various muscles being activated and you'll want to slump again. Persist!
If you work at a desk all day, get up every hour and do stretches. If you work in a private environment, do a few yoga poses.
When vacuuming, raking or shoveling, try to work both sides of your body by switching hands.
Walk and move as much as possible
Try to go talk to people instead of e-mailing them, take the stairs, walk to the store, stand up often.
Editor's note: this story contains a correction. Quotes previously attributed to Annette Alfieri should have been attributed to Lena Minervino. We've fixed this mistake in this version of the story, and apologize for the error. You can read more about Minervino at her website, http://www.simplyfitfairfield.com.