During a bout of exercise, there is an additional caloric demand related to the activity, but between all those workouts there is non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). NEAT is the energy it takes to do everything else but eat, sleep, and exercise. This is the energy expended on your walk from your car into the office, yard work, and even fidgeting. While exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, any of these small moments throughout the day can increase our metabolic rate, and ultimately have a cumulative impact. Let’s take a deeper look at NEAT and how to make our time away from the gym work more for us.
It is no surprise that those with more manually intensive jobs have a higher NEAT, while those in more industrialized office careers have a lower NEAT (1). Those sitting and with minimal activity all day have less of a chance to take advantage of NEAT, compared to those that may be moving all day with their work. There is also an added layer of cultural impact to increasing or decreasing our NEAT. Some studies emphases the relationship between NEAT and maintaining our body weight (or ability to gain and lose weight) is crucial (1). There are still some unknown factors as to the regulation of NEAT, but knowing that every little bit of movement adds up, perhaps, will make you more inclined to keep moving.
The small things add up. Prolonged periods of sitting or sedentary behavior can have negative health impacts like lowering certain protein levels, among other things. A simple break in sitting, standing up, or adding in the extra steps, are often at the top of the list as ways to increase our NEAT. Even putting a little more consistency into your daily chores can help to increase your overall energy expenditure. We may dread house cleaning, but spreading it out over the week makes it less intimidating and those extra trips up and down the stairs or vacuuming are contributing to an increase in your daily NEAT. Further, using your kids and pets are a great way to impact your total movement for the day. Spending extra time playing in the yard, walking to the park, and more boost NEAT and cognitive activity. So, not only do you stimulate the body, but you also engage the brain.
In addition to dietary choices, sleep, and exercise, NEAT can be an added tool to weight loss goals. Increasing NEAT activities to help with an additional 100-200 calories a day (equivalent to about one to two miles of walking) can add up to an additional 1-2 pounds lost in a month. Breaking down your day into 30-minute intervals can help to show you where some of the points in your day of prolonged sedentary behavior are, or where you perhaps have more time and means to increase your NEAT activity.
Use those work phone calls as time to walk around the room, wash your car by hand, try to take more trips carrying groceries into the house, take the long way around to the water fountain or bathroom, whatever you can think of! There are many ways to increase your overall daily activity and doing so can have a bigger impact than you might think. Again, this is not the only factor in weight loss, however, it is a good reminder that the gym and eating food you do not enjoy is not the only way to achieve weight loss. Just try to keep moving!
Kimberly Burke is a lecturer in the Department of Health and Exercise Science and the director of their Adult Fitness Program at Colorado State University. Adult Fitness offers exercise opportunities for employees of CSU as well as community members, while providing hands-on learning experiences for health promotion students. To learn more, see the Adult Fitness Program website
- Levine JA. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2002 Dec;16(4):679-702. doi: 10.1053/beem.2002.0227. PMID: 12468415.