Humming. Fidgeting. Stretching. You probably don’t think of these as calorie-burners. But they’re all forms of “non-exercise activity.” And a new study from Mayo Clinic Proceedings suggests they may control your weight better than spending time on a treadmill.
Physical activity—from running and lifting weights to laughing and lifting your water glass—accounts for 15% to 30% of the energy you use, the study authors say. (You use the rest eating and digesting food, or just staying alive; it takes a lot of energy to keep all your body’s systems running.)
When you break down all your calorie-burning movements, the study indicates your small non-exercise activities could add up to thousands of extra calories expended each day. Just standing up or playing solitaire while you watch television burns 50 to 100 calories an hour—compared to just nine calories if you sit still, the study shows.
Any activities that involve movement will enhance the number of calories your body uses, says study coauthor Pedro Villablanca, MD, a cardiologist at Montefiore-Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
“There is no question about the benefit of exercise,” Villablanca is quick to add. But making an attempt to move more—whether that means standing up whenever you talk on the phone, or cooking your own dinner—will help you expend more calories, he says. Even if you’re just standing up or stretching every few minutes at your desk, those little movements matter.
Here are four more weight-loss tricks that don’t require dieting or exercise:
Get more sleep
The less you sleep, the more your hunger hormones shout at you to overeat, shows research from PLOS Medicine. Compared to people who sleep eight hours a night, those who sleep five experience a 15% swing in their body’s levels of ghrelin and leptin—two hormones that stoke your appetite. The Stanford University researchers say the less you sleep, the more your BMI is likely to rise.
Sniff some peppermint
When people sniffed peppermint every two hours for five days, they consumed 1,800 fewer calories than those who sniffed a non-peppermint placebo, shows a study in the journal Appetite. That study’s authors say the scent of peppermint may stimulate your brain’s hypothalamus—which helps regulate your hunger levels—in ways that suppress your appetite.
Get some (morning) sun
The more you’re exposed to bright sun-strength light in the AM, the lower your weight is likely to plummet, finds a study from Northwestern University. Because sunlight helps set your body’s internal circadian clocks—which control your appetite—being outdoors or near a window as much as possible between eight AM and noon is a great way to eat less. Compared to sitting in a windowless room or office, just 30-minutes in a room filled with sunlight in the morning is enough to improve your BMI, the authors say. (You don’t have to expose your skin to the sun or its harmful UV rays; your eyes just need to be near sunlight, the study shows.) Just avoid a lot of bright light later in the day, which can have the opposite effect on your weight, the authors say.
The more stressed out you feel, the more likely you are to overeat, shows research from Yale and the University of California, San Francisco. The study team says the stress hormone cortisol may stoke your appetite and your desire to snack. But walking outside in nature slashes your stress your levels, and so may reduce your cortisol-fueled desire to snack. Music and meditation are two more ways to beat stress.