By Maryalene LaPonsie
It's a new year and that means, if polls are to be believed, nearly half of us have made resolutions to make this year the most awesome one ever.
While some of us might have our sights set on reading more books or achieving the perfect work-life balance, for many of us, resolutions are all about that waist. We want to lose weight, exercise more or become healthier. Signing up for a gym membership may seem like the perfect way to meet those goals, but before you succumb to high-pressure sales tactics by impressively toned sales reps, consider these wallet-friendly ways to burn off unwanted pounds.
Hands down, the easiest way to burn more calories per minute is to up your NEAT level -- your non-exercise activity thermogenesis -- the energy you use when you aren't sleeping, eating or exercising. It's the calories you burn by twiddling your thumbs, tapping your feet or waiting in line at the DMV.
The term was coined by Dr. James Levine, who discovered that individuals with manual or agrarian jobs have higher levels of NEAT. He also learned that as we get wealthier and more industrialized, our NEAT decreases. In other words, the more active we are, the more our metabolic rate increases and the more calories we burn even when we're not exercising. Many of the following suggestions are intended to help increase your NEAT. Beyond those, the key is to stand more, sit less, and move as much as possible.
2: Hit the Pavement
With its high-tech treadmills, elliptical machines and stair climbers, the gym may seem like a perfect place to get a workout 365 days a year. However, you can get almost that same workout for free, right outside your door. Don't let the cold air and snow deter you. Strap on your boots, bundle up and hit the sidewalk or the trails for a walk that will wake you up. It may seem less than ideal, but as someone who tries to walk regularly outside in the winter, let me tell you that you warm up quickly as you move.
3: Get in Touch with Your Inner Jane Fonda
But maybe no amount of cajoling is going to get you outside to walk or run in the cold. That's OK because, thanks to the endless supply of workout videos available through your library or online, you can exercise indoors for free, too.
4: Put Your Kids' Gaming System to Good Use
If videos aren't your thing, how about video games? Don't let your kids have all the gaming fun. I've had great success with EA (EA) Sports Active 2. I found it amazing how effective these workouts were when it came to helping me lose weight and build strength. I set my alarm for 30 minutes earlier so I could be done before the kids needed to be up for school. Of course, there's also Zumba, yoga and dozens of other fitness titles available for all the major gaming systems. Check your library to see what's available to burn these calories for free.
5: Park in the Back 40
Another simple, easy and, of course, free way to burn calories is to park in the most distant spots available in the lot. Depending on the size of the lot, you might add a couple minutes to your trip to the store, but is that time really going to break you? And as long as the store provides carts, it probably won't kill you to push your purchases back to the car either.
6: Stand as Much as Possible
This goes back to the NEAT levels we discussed in the first point. You burn more calories standing than sitting. According to the BBC, you burn about 50 more calories per hour, to be exact. You won't start dropping pounds like mad just from standing, but those 50 calories can add up over time. To get on your feet more often, try to find a place to set up your computer so you can stand and type. I have a kitchen counter that is the perfect height, and as a bonus, for some reason, I find I'm remarkably more productive when I stand.
7: Walk While You Talk
Another option to get on your feet is to walk whenever you're on the phone. It doesn't have to be anything strenuous. You could even multitask by doing mindless cleaning while you talk, such as returning dirty dishes to the kitchen or picking up books and toys.
8: Move During Commercial Breaks
If you watch TV the old-fashioned way -- that is, without a streaming service or a DVR -- you can expect some commercial breaks. What are you doing with that time? Now, some people might suggest doing sit-ups or push-ups during commercial breaks, but that sounds like a lot of work to me. How about you simply get up and stretch? Or refill your glass of water (water, not soda)? Or put the paper in the recycling bin?
This all goes back to your NEAT level. You don't have to be exercising. You just have to be moving. So use those commercial breaks as your cue to get up off the couch, even if it's just to stand for a minute until your show comes back on.
9: Become a Stair Master
Another option that can increase your movement each and every day is to take the stairs whenever possible. In some buildings, the stairs are hard to find, but if you know where they are, skip the elevator or escalator and hoof it instead. If you can't make it all the way to your floor or if it's impossible (looking at you, dear readers, who work in high-rise office buildings), walk a couple flights and take the elevator the rest of the way. Remember, anything is better than nothing.
10: Fire the Hired Help
Does someone else mow your lawn, shovel your walk and wash your car? Say adieu, and do it yourself. Not only will it help you move more, but it's good for your wallet, too. It'll be like getting paid to burn calories.
11: Add Some Kick to Your Food
As a slightly offbeat suggestion, you might want to consider adding some spice to your life in the form of red pepper. At least one study found that you expend more energy after eating a gram of red pepper. The effects seem to be particularly pronounced in those who don't normally eat spicy foods.
12: Get More Sleep
It doesn't get much easier than sleeping your way to a healthy weight, am I right? The next time you're tempted to feel guilty for turning in early, remind yourself that adequate sleep may be what helps you stay in shape. A 2011 study found that acute sleep deprivation led healthy men to have lower energy expenditures the next morning. In other words, you'll burn fewer calories if you're sleep-deprived and dragging through the day.
13: Look to the Funny Side
Here's a reason to pick the comedy rather than the brooding drama flick. Back in 2005, researchers discovered you burn 20 percent more calories laughing than when you're not laughing. That means laughing 10 to 15 minutes a day could help you burn enough calories to drop 4.4 pounds a year.
14: Find an App for That
Your smartphone can do all sorts of things, including help you burn calories. Fitness apps run the gamut from those that help you track your food intake to those that help you exercise smarter. Some apps even let you earn cash by meeting your health goals. There are plenty of apps to choose from. PC magazine offers what it deems the top 25 picks.
No. 15: Strap on a Pedometer
Most of the suggestions in this article are absolutely free. However, if you're willing to shell out a little money, a pedometer can be a cheap motivational tool. Once you realize just how much (or how little) you're moving, you might be encouraged to step away from the TV or the computer screen more frequently.
If you want to splurge on a pedometer, the latest trend is a fitness band that combines the features of a pedometer with the convenience and versatility of an app. My Christmas gift to myself was an UP 24 by Jawbone, but for others, Fitbit seems to be all the rage. Other noteworthy options include bands by Nike (NKE), Garmin (GRMN) and Microsoft (MSFT).
Is getting healthy and in shape one of your goals for 2015? Leave a comment below or head to the Money Talks news Facebook page to tell us how you plan to do it.