Given the popularity of CrossFit, marathon running, virtual spinning classes, hardcore group fitness classes, and other really, really intense forms of working out, it's all too easy to forget the importance of slightly less ambitious types of exercise. As some have observed, simply sitting on the floor more—and forcing your body to squat more—can have a major impact on your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal fitness and potentially add years to your life.
In fact, there are plenty of ways that we can get creative with physical activity and sneak some extra exercise into our lives without ever setting foot in a gym. These small strategies make a difference. William Kraus, MD, a professor at Duke University and the author of a big 2018 study that links small bursts of exercise to longevity, told The New York Times, "The little things that people do every day can and do add up and affect the risk for disease and death."
What's more, doing small and short exercises every day can also help you burn a lot more fat and help you achieve that lean, fit body you've always wanted. According to an eye-opening study published in the journal PLOS One, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, found that when your muscles aren't moving at all—for even short periods—your metabolism isn't churning. The single best way to jumpstart it up again? Move around. Do some squats, take a walk, even fidget.
With that in mind, we reached out to some top fitness experts for their secret little exercise tricks that you can do every day to get more exercise into your day as you work to get a leaner figure. Read on for their answers. And for more life-changing exercise advice, see here for the Secret Exercise Tricks for Keeping Your Weight Down for Good.
Carry More Things
"One of the most basic forms of fitness is something called the carry—and this can mean carrying anything, whether it's your purse or a suitcase or a gallon of water," says Ebenzer Samuel, C.S.C.S. "Humans were built to carry things at their sides, and doing so actually builds ab strength, forearm strength, and back strength (and burns more calories than you think)."
Whenever you get the opportunity, carry something at your side. "That might mean not putting your backpack on your back or not using the shoulder-strap on your purse, but holding those things at your sides," says Samuel. "It might mean skipping the wheeled cart on your run to the grocery store and just walking that case of bottled water to the checkout line. Yes, it's a little bit of work, but you'll elevate your heart rate more than you think, and you'll build real-world strength." And for more clever ways to work your muscles more every day, don't miss The Secret Trick for Getting Fit Using Your Toothbrush.
Work Your Shoulders While Driving
Believe it or not, you can continue to work your body in the unlikeliest of scenarios. "To avoid being stagnant at your desk or seated positions, set a kitchen timer and stand up every 15-20 mins," says Melissa Prestipino, PT, DPT. "March in place or take a short walk to another room. Promote movement and circulation. During sitting or driving, pull the shoulder blades together (scapular retraction) to help promote a more upright posture and to strengthen the shoulder blade muscles."
While you're walking or standing, she says you should "contract and pull in your abdominal/core muscles. Cueing yourself to 'pull your belly button towards the spine' can help to strengthen your abdominal muscles."
Utilize the Incline Function on the Treadmill
Do you know what's more effective than walking? Walking up a hill. "If you're cutting (wanting to lose body fat), but don't want to impede your strength or hypertrophy goals, one of my favorite tricks is to walk on the treadmill at a high incline (15-20 degree incline), and walk at a slow pace (around 2mph)," says Jay Soriano, a personal trainer based in Hawaii. "You could also take it up another notch with a weighted vest, or you can walk and bicep curl light dumbbells." And for more some great workouts to try, learn why These 5-Minute Exercises Will Make You Sleep Like a Teenager.
"Walk Like You Are Late" Everywhere
"Walk like you are late wherever you are and wherever you are going," advises fitness coach Paul Knight. "Focus your mind on walking. Imagine you are late, and walk as fast as you can for 5 minutes. Get your heart rate up, get a little out of breath, and maybe a bit of a sweat on. After 5 minutes of focused walking, return to normal."
If you do this up to 6 times a day, he says, you will have squeezed 30 minutes of power walking into your day—and you'll have burned off plenty of calories. And remember: Brisk walking is a wonderfully effective way to burn fat and, according to one doctor, can add upwards of 20 years to your life.
What's more, your brain will flourish. One recently released study in the journal Scientific Reports suggests that brisk walking, along with other forms of moderate exercise, will boost your creativity and inspire your imagination. An earlier study published in the journal APA PsycNet, in 2014, found that exercising more is actually linked to the ability to conjure more successful innovations.
"Now that the summer is coming the best way to stay cool and maintain your fitness is to bring your workout to the water," says personal trainer Carly Fauth, founder of SplasHIIT. "You don't have to be a swimmer to get a great workout in the pool, lake or ocean. Treading water (also known as the doggy paddle) can burn 400+ calories per hour!"
Stretch Every Single Hour
"We all spent a looooot of time sitting during the pandemic, and that's not what your body wants," says Samuel. "Your body is built to move, and that movement helps create blood flow to skin and other key tissues. So once an hour, whenever possible, stand and stretch. You don't need to do anything fancy—just lunge forward, or touch your toes, or reach for the ceiling. Your body will thank you."
Do Some Exercise Snacks
"Exercise doesn't have to be a 45 minute workout," observes Steven Gundry, MD, a cardio thoracic surgeon and medical director at The International Heart and Lung Institute Center for Restorative Medicine. "Do some 'exercise snacking,' or 10 minute sessions—or 'snacks'—that are quick, easy forms of exercise that can be done anywhere, anytime. The goal is to move throughout the day with 'bursts' of vigorous movement that condition your metabolism, kick-start energy productions, help boost mental clarity, promote better sleep, and more." And for more on the benefits of exercise snacking, check out The 15-Second Exercise Trick That Can Change Your Life.
Do More Compound Moves
"The easiest way to burn fat is to raise your metabolism by performing compound movements such as squats, lunges, bench press and deadlifts, which use the major muscle groups," says Robert Herbst, a personal trainer, weight-loss expert, and 19-time world champion powerlifter who supervised the drug testing at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. "These cause the person to burn more calories for 48 to 72 hours post-exercise as the body repairs the muscle that was broken down during the workout and builds new muscle in anticipation of greater loads (heavier workouts) in the future." For more great fitness tips, don't miss these Secret Tricks for Walking Better Starting Now, Say Experts.
Squeeze Your Glutes
"All the time, every time, whenever you can remember, whether you're sitting in the car or standing in line for, well, anything, squeeze your glutes!," says Samuel. "Squeezing your glutes while standing is a super-underrated way to alleviate lower back pain, because it shifts your pelvis into a position that allows it to better support your spine. That takes pressure off lower back muscles, and lets them relax. Squeezing your glutes will also instantly clean up your posture too, helping you stand taller and more erect."
Replace Scroll Time with Micro-Exercises
"My favorite tip for sneaking more movement into the day is to find those little pockets of time you tend to waste by picking up your phone and mindlessly scrolling the internet and doing a little exercise," says Karen Shopoff Roof, CPT, a personal trainer and health coach based in Austin, TX. "Maybe it's five minutes you have to wait for your kid's soccer practice to finish, or maybe it's three minutes you're waiting for colleagues to join a Zoom meeting—if you can learn to turn those dead minutes into active time, they add up!"
Her suggestions include marching in place, doing pushups on a nearby counter, or counting out 25 squats. "It doesn't so much matter what type of movement you choose, but by doing something active with these minutes you not only keep your blood pumping and oxygenated (great for mental sharpness, too!), but you also prevent yourself from mindless eating."
Put Your Alarm Clock on the Other Side of the Room
"If you hit the snooze button, your chances of getting up for that workout drop 50%," says Allen Conrad, BS, DC, CSCS, the owner of Montgomery County Chiropractic Center, in Pennsylvania. "Place your alarm somewhere that you actually have to get up to turn off, because once you actually get out of bed to turn it off, you're much more likely to wake up."
He also advises you to have your music playlist ready to go and your clothes laid out. "Have a favorite playlist ready to listen to that gets you excited in the morning, one that will get you motivated once that alarm clock goes off. Every little bit will help when you are trying to wake up early." And for more reasons to be more active every day, see here for What Happens to Your Body When You Walk More, Says Science.