Limited Exercise without Equipment Achieves Same Results as Daily Gym Workouts

A new study shows you can decrease body fat while increasing muscle mass, strength and endurance – using exercise without equipment.

Woman doing a tricep dip with a chair

Research shows that people who exercise without equipment throughout the day such as tapping their feet, standing versus sitting, and generally moving around more burn as much as 350 calories more per day than those who sit still.

A recent study published in the journal, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, reveals that moderate exercise performed two days per week was as beneficial to sedentary participants as exercising six days per week. The study asked previously sedentary women, ranging from 60 to 74 years old, to perform a combination of aerobic exercise and weight lifting (resistance training) for a particular number of days each week. The women were divided into three groups: work out two days per week (one day of aerobic and one day of resistance); four days per week (two days of aerobic and two days of resistance); or six days per week (three days of aerobic and three days of resistance). The aerobic training consisted of 40 minutes of exercise at 80% maximum heart rate and the resistance training consisted of two sets of 10 repetitions for 10 different exercises. 

Surprisingly, after four months, all of the groups lost body fat, increased muscle mass and increased endurance (stamina). Meaning, the group that worked out only two days per week had the same results as those who worked out six days per week! Dr. Mark Stengler notes, “Sometimes, less is more — and that can even be true when it comes to exercise, especially if you’re just getting started.”

Exercise Without Equipment + Exercise Less = Burn More Calories?!?!

The most fascinating result from the research study was the amount of activity-related energy expenditure (AEE) and non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) observed between the three groups. NEAT is movement that isn’t intended as exercise. For example, NEAT would include activity that requires walking a further distance (as in a parking lot of a store) compared to taking a driving shortcut (parking closer to the store entrance). The two day per week group used about 68 extra calories per day in non-exercise training. The four day per week group used an extra 200+ calories per day and the six day per week group used 150 fewer calories per day of non-exercise training.

The researchers concluded that the women who exercised six days per week felt that their exercise schedule consumed too much time so they were less likely to perform non-exercise training. On the other hand, the other two groups felt more energetic and were more likely to engage in these non-exercise activities.

The bottom line is… you don’t have to kill yourself at a gym five or six days per week to lose weight and gain energy. To get the most “bang for your buck” set up a realistic exercise plan. As the study proves, you can perform a minimum amount of exercise without equipment and still get the maximum benefits – both saving time and money. Here is how you should plan:

  1. Set one time each week to perform 40 minutes of aerobic exercise such as step aerobics, water aerobics, dance, skating, bicycling, or using gym equipment such as a stair-stepper or elliptical machine. If you want to exercise without equipment, take a brisk walk, run or find a free YouTube aerobic video to perform at home.
  2. Set one time each week to perform 40 minutes of weight lifting or resistance training. Be sure to start out using light weights or resistance bands. You don’t want to overexert yourself and get hurt! If possible, have a friend workout with you who can spot while you lift weights. If you want to exercise without equipment such as free weights or weight machines, you can use household items like canned foods, gallon plastic water jugs, books, dishes (heavy plates or pots), a bag of sweet potatoes, tools (hammers, large wrenches), etc.
  3. If possible, add additional times of aerobic exercise and/or resistance training throughout the week. The key is to perform as much planned exercise as possible without feeling burned out or fatigued. If five days are too much, cut back to four. If four days are too much, cut back to three, and so on. Remember– be realistic with your schedule and fitness level.

Next, look for opportunities throughout the week to perform non-exercise training or “all-day” activities to increase your activity level:

  • Park farther away from the entrance to the store so you walk a longer distance (or better yet walk to the store from home).
  • Perform house work (i.e. vacuuming, washing windows).
  • March in place while watching TV.
  • Take the stairs instead of an elevator.
  • Walk your dog.
  • Use a manual lawn mower instead of a riding lawn mower.
  • Play a game of hide-and-seek or go outside with your kids or grandkids.
  • If you work on a computer, take breaks periodically to stand, stretch or even walk.
  • Wash your car with a hose instead of driving through a car wash.
  • When talking on the phone, try pacing instead of sitting.
  • Rake leaves or shovel snow instead of using a blower.
  • In your office, move the wastebasket to the other side of the room so you have to get up out of your seat to throw away trash.
  • Take your groceries out of the car one bag at a time instead of multiple bags at one time.

Need Motivation To Get Moving?

Dr. James Levine from the Mayo Clinic reports that non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) can help you burn more calories per day. Dr. Levine’s research shows that people who exercise without equipment throughout the day such as tapping their feet, standing versus sitting, and generally moving around more burn as much as 350 calories more per day than those who sit still – and this can add up to as much as 40 pounds per year!

If you still need more motivation to exercise, view our article, How to Get Motivated to Exercise.

[1] Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013 Jan 30.

[2] “The right amount of exercise” by Dr. Mark Stengler, March 7, 2013.

[3] Levine, James. “Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.” Mayo Clinic. 2010.

[4] Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2002 Dec;16(4):679-702.

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UHN Staff

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