A “N.E.A.T” Solution to Maternal Inactivity

Traditional pregnancy guidelines of “getting as much rest as possible” and “eating for two” have now evolved into a major contributor to the worldwide obesity epidemic.  Today, 45% of women begin their pregnancies overweight or obese, compared with 24% in 1983 (1).  This dramatically increases a woman’s risk of developing gestational diabetes and preeclampsia, experiencing severe pregnancy pains and injuries, and requiring medical intervention for delivery.  It also puts her child at risk for being born with macrosomia (birth weight over 8lbs 13oz), experiencing health problems like diabetes, and becoming overweight or obese.  For this reason, some researchers are now calling maternal inactivity the greatest global health risk of the 21st century due to its impact on current, and future, generations.

While the statistics can seem daunting, the potential impact you can make as a fitness professional is huge, and it does not involve convincing clients to get to the gym more!  With this easy-to-apply, evidence-based strategy, you can literally begin changing the lives of this generation, and the next.  It’s powerful. It’s proven. It’s N.E.A.T.

What is N.E.A.T?

It is short for Non-Exercise-Activity-Thermogenesis, and it’s basically all of the movement and activity that you do throughout the day when not officially “exercising” – including standing, walking, even fidgeting. While it may not seem that significant, it can have a far greater impact on a person’s overall activity than exercise.  Think about it: Even if you go to the gym every single day for an hour, that’s still only 7 hours of movement per week. What you do during the other 16-18 waking hours per day (112 – 126 hours per week) can make a far bigger difference!

During pregnancy, it can be very difficult to motivate women to “exercise” during the first trimester when nausea and fatigue are at an all time high, and then again in the third trimester when added discomfort, exhaustion, and stress of getting ready for baby set in.  So it becomes imperative for fitness professionals to find creative, alternative ways for women to stay “active.” N.E.A.T is a perfect way to do that, and it can have a major impact on the health of the mother, and her child.

N.E.A.T is also a powerful tool for all non-pregnant clients.  Studies have shown it has the potential to burn an extra 350 calories (or more) per day.  In fact, a recent study indicated that individuals who moved more throughout their day were more likely to reach, or maintain, weight-loss goals than those who engaged in a vigorous exercise session, but were sedentary throughout the rest of their day (2).

Tips for helping your clients incorporate more N.E.A.T

Below are several ideas for helping clients simply and easily increase their daily activity.  To ensure success, pick just 1-2 things to begin, and focus on making them a habit, then pick a few more, and so on.

At Work:

  • If you drive to work, park in the back of the parking lot.
  • If you take public transportation, get off a stop or two early and walk the rest of the way.
  • If you work on a higher floor, take the stairs. Or, get off the elevator a few floors early and take the stairs the rest of the way.
  • Use a bathroom on a different floor, and take the stairs.
  • Stand, pace, or take a walk outside while on calls. NOTE: Research shows that moving while thinking improves your problem-solving abilities!
  • Change meetings with your colleagues to “walking meetings.”
  • Place your garbage can away from your desk, so you’ll have to get up every time to throw something away.
  • Every time you sit down, stand back up once more, then sit back down.  When standing up, sit back down once more, then stand up again.  We refer to this as the Chair Getup and it’s a great functional exercise!
  • Opt for a standing desk, or sitting on a stability ball, if you have the opportunity.
  • After completing a task, get up and take a few laps around your office.

At Home:

  • Play with your kids (or pets), and plan more active family activities on weekends.
  • Find more excuses to take your baby out for a walk in the stroller – to run errands, to soothe to sleep, or to just get some fresh air.
  • Clean your house more!
  • Opt for the stairs when possible.  If you live in an apartment, try taking the stairs at least a few flights.  If you have stairs in your house, try using the bathroom on a different floor.
  • After grocery shopping, bring grocery bags in one at a time.
  • When sitting and watching TV, stand up and move throughout every commercial break.
  • When reading, or otherwise sitting, get up every 30 minutes or so and move.
  • Do heel raises or step-touches while brushing your teeth or cooking.
  • Add some evening walks to your family routine.
  • Place items that you use in low cupboards, so you have to squat to reach them.  Or, pick up toys one at a time, doing a squat each time you pick up a toy.
  • Stand or walk around while talking on the phone.

Out and About:

  • Try “interval walking” when possible: walk fast for 30 seconds, then regular pace for 60 seconds, and keep alternating.
  • Never stop moving!  Pace while waiting for the subway, do heel raises while standing in line, jog in place or do step touches if waiting to cross the street.
  • If you take the subway, opt to stand instead of sit
  • Schedule a “walk and talk” with friends.
  • Consider getting a pedometer, and aiming for 10,000 steps per day.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means.  Spend some time brainstorming ideas with your clients based on their specific routines.  The more you can get your clients in the habit of moving more, the less they will need to think about it, and the more they will likely enjoy it!  This is definitely a strategy that will benefit ALL your clients, not just your expecting ones.