Why You Should Stay Active Even if You Don’t Exercise



Let’s face it. Not everyone likes to exercise. We can understand that. There are days we have to kick our own butts to get motivated to do it too. On the plus side, no one ever regrets working out once it’s done, right?

We’ve had plenty of articles on why you should stay active, how to get motivated to exercise, high-intensity workouts, making exercise fun and so on. We’ve even told you about no equipment workouts you can do at home. Despite our efforts, we know a certain number of you are still not spending thirty minutes or more a day working out.

A No-Exercise Way to Get Health Benefits

If you can’t or won’t commit to doing a formal workout, there’s another alternative that will stay pay off in health dividends – staying more active throughout the day. Increasing your non-exercise activity level can even help you lose weight.

Think about it this way. You’re awake and moving around 12 to 16 hours a day. What if you increased your activity during the 12 or hours you’re awake? Let’s say you burned a modest number of extra calories each hour you’re awake, as little as 20 or so. That’s a 240 calorie deficit you wouldn’t have had otherwise. This alone adds up to 7200 calories a month, enough to lose 2 pounds.

Why You Should Stay Active

Staying active is important for more than just controlling your weight. A recent study points out another reason to move more. This study looked at whether low-intensity activities that don’t require lacing up a pair of exercise shoes or sweating has benefits.

As it turns out, activities like carrying groceries into the house, pushing a grocery cart, light housecleaning and walking to the mailbox DO have health benefits. This study showed people that spent more time doing activities like this (as measured by a pedometer-like device) had a lower risk for disability. In fact, based on this study, spending as little as an extra hour a day doing low-intensity activities can greatly reduce the risk of disability.

This is pretty powerful. You can actually lower your risk for disability by staying active doing light activities like cleaning the house. Combine this with studies showing too much sitting increases the risk for dying prematurely and you’ve got even more reasons to move more. More than one study shows that sitting too long increases mortality and your risk for health problems like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity.

Unfortunately, many people these days work jobs that involve sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day. In past articles, we’ve talked about ways to stay active if you work behind a desk:

  • Replace your desk with a treadmill desk or put a pedal machine under your desk so you can pedal while you work.
  • Elevate your computer with a stack of books so you can stand while you’re working. You burn 30 to 40 additional calories per hour for each hour you stand rather than sit.
  • Set a timer to go off every 30 minutes. When it does, take a walk up and down the hall or the stairs.
  • Walk around during breaks and at lunch.
  • If it’s safe, walk to work.
  • Stand or walk while making phone calls.
  • Do stretches at your desk.
  • Take frequent restroom breaks. Do a set of squats in the restroom before returning to your desk.
  • Use a pair of resistance bands to work your muscles if you have the room and privacy

All of these are effective ways to stay more active. If you’re not ready to invest in a treadmill desk, here’s a simpler solution. We’ll call it Plan B. Invest in a Fit Bit to monitor your activity. Once you know how active you are each day, challenge yourself to increase your activity level each week. If you’re not ready to spring for a Fit Bit, get a cheap pedometer and increase the number of steps you take each day.

Do you really know how active you are? Most people move around less than they think. These days it’s easy to find out. Measure your activity level using a Fit Bit or pedometer. Pedometers are inexpensive and easy to come by. These devices offer an objective way to find out how much you’re moving around during the day. Wearing one is also a good way to motivate yourself to move more.

If you work at home, it’s even easier to stay active during the day. For example, I write ten hours a day. Even though I work out in the morning, I try to stay active throughout the day. Some of the things I do:

  • Walk up and down the stairs every 30 minutes or so.
  • Take cleaning breaks. There’s always something to clean!
  • Play with the dogs
  • Do a set of push-ups and squat jumps during some breaks.
  • Walk when talking on the phone
  • Remind myself to do these things by setting an alarm to go off every 20 minutes.

If you happen to be a patient of Dr. A’s, you’ll notice he stands when he talks to you. That’s not an accident. In fact, he removed the chair from his office so he CAN’T sit. When we travel and stop at a gas station, he does a series of jumping exercises while the gas tank is filling. It’s too funny. I’ve seen people point at him and laugh. On the other hand, if he’s going to tell you why you should stay active, he needs to set a good example.

Become an Exercise Opportunist

If the idea of a no equipment home workout doesn’t appeal to you and you’re just not willing to do it – switch to Plan B. Make a conscious effort to pack more non-exercise activity into every hour of your day. Whether you use a Fit Bit or a pedometer, monitor how much activity you’re doing every day and try to one-up yourself.

On the weekends, find active ways to spend your time – hiking, walking, cycling, playing a sport, walking your dog, playing with the kids etc. Even shopping counts as exercise if you walk briskly from store to store holding packages and take the stairs instead of the elevator.

Yes, we’d love for you to do a daily or every-other-day workout. If that doesn’t work for you, at least go with Plan B. Staying active is too important to your health not to.


BMJ 2014. Apr 29: 348: g2804.
PLOS One. “Daily Sitting Time and All-Cause Mortality: A Meta-Analysis”



Kristie Leong M.D.

Dr. Kristie Leong and Dr. Apollo Leong are physicians helping you to lead a healthy lifestyle by sharing nutrition and fitness tips and keeping you abreast of the latest health news.

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