The NEAT Effect: Movement Beyond Exercise
How many times have you or someone you know, when discussing weight loss, complained about a slow metabolism? I’ve heard the all-too-common “just looking at food will make me gain weight many times. Yes, many people do have endocrine problems that make weight loss harder. But, the vast majority of people who complain about their slow metabolisms don’t have a metabolism problem at all. More so a lack of movement problem.
Skipping that walk to work in favour of transit, sitting for hours at a work desk without budging working from home to finish your day and sit on the couch in front of the TV may sound common. When it comes to overall health and fat loss goals, just getting a workout in is not enough daily movement.
But you workout, you say in defense. Consider this: the average calories burned during an hour of intentional exercise can burn 300-350 calories for every 100lbs of body weight. (This is an average but everyone will differ based on unique factors such as lean body mass, BMR, etc.). Simply moving more and sitting less outside of working out can boost your health and calorie burning through a mechanism called NEAT, or non-exercise activity thermogenesis.
The National Institute of Health states NEAT as all the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise, including walking to work, typing, fidgeting at your desk, performing yard work, or dancing to your favourite song while you cook dinner. Even everyday physical activities increase metabolic rate substantially and has a cumulative impact. It is, therefore, not surprising that NEAT explains a vast majority of an individual’s non-resting energy needs.
The #1 key to solving any problem is being aware that the problem exists in the first place. Raising consciousness trumps everything. So now we can begin to focus on the solution.
- Set an alarm to move – when working from home, set alarms to train yourself to just get up more. Getting up hourly and walking to the restroom, getting a refill of water or standing up to stretch can decrease stiffness, boost energy and burn calories. Also, when watching TV, during every commercial break get up and move. Do a few stretches, walk around the house…
- Get a pedometer or smart watch – To gauge how much moving you currently do and then motivate yourself to do more. Wear it all the time to track both at-work and at-home exercises. Find creative ways to increase steps every day. Park at the far end of the parking lot at the grocery store or get up and walk around your apartment on phone calls. Extra steps add up to significant output over time.
- Pace and fidget – You probably try to avoid both of these moves to keep from looking irritable or nervous, but they’re easy exercises for weight loss. Pacing rather than standing still and fidgeting rather than sitting still will burn more calories. Pace when talking on the phone. Try standing up and stretching every time you hit ‘send’ on an e-mail.
- Take the stairs – If you want easy exercises for weight loss that really pay dividends, take the stairs whenever possible. “Climbing stairs is a great way to burn calories and strengthen your legs.
- Dance while you cook or clean – This is my personal favourite. Cooking & cleaning are at-home exercise that we all have to do — you might hate it, but it’s NEAT at its finest. A good inspirational tune can add some extra pep to your step perform tasks around the apartment or house. The music, along with the joy dancing freely generally brings, can cause the brain to signal the release of happy hormones, creating emotional benefits while you torch calories.
- Carry your groceries – Combine strength training and errands on your next trip to the store: If you live within walking distance of your market, see whether you can carry groceries in your arms rather than a cart. If you have to drive, turn unloading the car into an at-home exercise, and add a few bicep curls every time you lift a bag out of the trunk.
Ainsworth, BE, et al. (2011). Compendium of physical activities: A second update of codes and MET values. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 43:1575.
Levine, JA. (2002). Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab, 16(4):679-702.