No time for the gym? Well, I’ve got good news: NEAT and HIIT

Hello, everyone! I hope that those of you who are students received a much-needed slow in pace over fall break and perhaps had some more time to take care of yourself. (And if you’re not a student, I hope that you’ve had a well deserved break of sorts also!) Even if your break was like mine–still full of readings, studying, and research writing–even the extra time afforded from the lack of lectures and labs is a plus. 

Now, unfortunately, since I am still not yet in nursing school, I cannot share much knowledge of the nursing student experience. However, as you may have noticed, I have been basing posts around my pre-nursing experience as well as the general college experience. And another thing that you may know about me at this point is that I am a firm advocate of exercise and healthy dietary choices. (Resent me if you will!)  But again, there are several barriers to these lifestyle habits, especially for college students. So, what can you do in place of regular gym visits and the expected 150 minutes of moderate-intensity (or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity) aerobic exercise per week? Well, the answer is surprisingly simple…and relatively easy.

If you’ve ever done a bit of research into types of exercise, the term high-intensity interval training (HIIT) may have popped up at some point. And thankfully, the name is fairly self-explanatory: you perform at a high level of intensity (usually pushing your body to its limits) for 20 seconds to a minute before entering a brief rest period and then restarting the cycle. This is a form of anaerobic exercise that is especially effective at fat reduction in the body. So, if you’re interested in weight loss while maintaining muscle tone and improving cardiovascular health, this may be an attractive option for you! However, keep in mind that this is a strenuous form of physical activity, so if you have pre-existing health conditions, especially heart abnormalities, you should consult a physician before attempting any HIIT workouts.

 But if you’re cleared to start, search for some HIIT workouts online and see which works best for you! Two of the most common ones are sprints and cycling. (I personally prefer sprint intervals, especially since I can do them anywhere that I have space to run.) And regardless of what you choose, here’s the best part: HIIT workouts, depending on the type, can take up only a couple minutes (twelve to thirty) a week. (This is thanks to the high intensity aspect of the exercises; you’re working harder in exchange for less time spent doing so.) So, while I would still recommend aiming for more low- or moderate-intensity aerobic exercise in combination with HIIT, if you’re low on time, HIIT alone still offers numerous health benefits! Just remember to warm up properly before each workout (i.e., with walking and dynamic stretching).

But what if you don’t have time for even that, or maybe you aren’t interested in such “high-intensity” activity? Well, that’s where the acronym (and actual practice of) NEAT comes into play. NEAT, or non-exercise activity thermogenesis, is any energy-expending action that doesn’t involve formal exercise, sleeping, or eating. Basically, this is any energy that we use in casual, basic, daily activities. Walking up that flight of stairs instead of taking the elevator? That’s NEAT (both meanings intended). Shaking your legs and fiddling with your fingers? Also NEAT. Vacuuming the house or washing dishes? NEAT. Walking the dog? NEAT. Speed walking instead of walking at a slower pace? More NEAT. Anything that uses up energy and that doesn’t fit into the three aforementioned categories is a form of NEAT and thus promotes not only energy usage (and thus weight maintenance or loss, to some degree) but a medley of health benefits that you’d expect only from formal exercise. 

But guess what. It isn’t necessarily the lack of exercise that poses harm to your health; it’s actually the lack of physical activity in general. Sitting or lying down all day? Yep, that’s more dangerous, especially in the long-term, than simply missing or avoiding gym days. Why? Well, our bodies simply weren’t made for extended periods without movement. In response to sedentary lifestyles, our bodies store more lipids, our glucose levels rise, our muscles atrophy, and we increase our chances of developing type two diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression and anxiety, and even forms of cancer. So, whenever possible, throw in some NEAT! If you can walk, choose to walk. If you can fidget, fidget as much as you want (while being considerate of those around you). If you can stand and pace while studying, go for it! And remember: every movement counts.

By now, if you didn’t before, you know that being physically active doesn’t have to take up hours of your days, be spent in a gym setting, or cause you to sacrifice other parts of your schedule. Options like HIIT and NEAT exist and are convenient yet significantly beneficial to your overall health and wellbeing. So, if you’ve given up on being physically active, consider giving it one more try. And if you’re interested in learning more about exercise in general (including HIIT and NEAT) in film form, here’s the documentary from my Health Psychology course that inspired me to write this post:


Enjoy the rest of your week!

Nursing students unite!