N.E.A.T. stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis.
Sounds complicated, eh? Well, it’s not. What it means is all the non-exercises related activity you do that help burn calories. Sitting on the couch watching T.V., probably doesn’t burn too much. Parking a little further away and walking that extra little bit to the grocery store is a bit more like it. Are there more ways to use N.E.A.T. to stay healthy? You bet.
Let’s look at some averages right now. Specifically, average weekly trips to the gym, that is, before all the Covid-19 closures. So, let’s say you make it to the gym roughly three times a week and for an hour each time. That’s pretty good (it’s better than not making it there at all). That’s three hours out of 168 hours in a week. You’re looking at less than 2%!! If you’re only spending 2% of your week at the gym, you better be doing other things that contribute to an active and healthy lifestyle.
What contributes to N.E.A.T.
When we look at resting metabolism, things like calories burnt from digestion, organ functions, breathing, and circulating blood are included. Other things that burn calories are often included with N.E.A.T. Like walking to work, the items mentioned above contribute to N.E.A.T., but so do things like physical labor, shoveling the driveway in the winter, gardening in the summer, or typing and fidgeting have an impact. Many jobs include physical labor as a requirement, but regular physical labor as part of daily living is out of the equation. We don’t have to chase and hunt for our food. We don’t have to hang up our clothes to dry. We don’t have to manually cultivate our land for growing fruits and vegetables. Doing all those things in the past, have a great impact on N.E.A.T. On the other hand, while the industry has given us great things in more recent times, it has caused us not to move near as much.
As author Dr. James Levine, MD, Ph.D. says in an article from 2002, N.E.A.T. has a great deal with the culture we live in. It’s pointed out that agricultural and manual workers have high N.E.A.T., while this great deal of industrialization has appeared to decrease N.E.A.T. He also mentions that it is a change in energy balance that greatly impacts the factor of N.E.A.T. and it can largely influence weight loss or weight gain.
The number of calories you burn daily from things like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking a little further away from the office entrance and walking more or even asking for a standing desk will have a much larger impact than you might think. Here we go again with the math and averages. On average, standing burns roughly 100-200 calories an hour compared to 60-130 calories an hour when sitting. So that standing desk I mentioned above might be a good idea (on top of why it’s said that sitting has become the new smoking, but that’s for another article). So, just standing for a few hours each day instead of sitting, you may burn around 100 more calories an hour. Do the math. If you’re standing three more hours a day rather than sitting, you’re going to burn roughly 2100 more calories each week just by standing a bit more. That’s just by standing. If you were to add more of the mentioned things, you’d be well on your way.
We Need To Move More Often
The sedentary lifestyle that we’ve become accustomed to needs to be adapted to include movement of all types. Lifting, reaching, running, walking, and many more. In another article by Dr. Levine, he says that both environmental and biological factors impact one’s N.E.A.T. It, too, mentions the “concrete jungle” and a large degree of sitting at a desk for 8hrs a day, but let’s take a look at biological factors.
When looking to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, it’s not exactly fair in many cases. Some people are naturally skinny, and some people are naturally larger, not to mention gender. Body structure, body type, and natural metabolism all have a role in weight loss or gain, but so does N.E.A.T. Those wanting or needing to lose weight need to start looking at what they are doing for the majority of their time. Not so much making it to the gym for 2% of the week.
This pandemic that we are in has not helped people stay active, especially here in Canada, with the cold winter months. Much is made about being active for an hour a day, but just as I mentioned going to the gym three days a week account for 2% of the week, going for an hour walk every day accounts for 4%. We must start finding ways to increase our N.E.A.T. Start find ways to increase activity the other 96-98% of the time.
How To Increase Your Activity Level
I mentioned some things that can be done to increase N.E.A.T., but there are many more things that you probably wouldn’t even consider. Yes, standing more, like a standing desk at work, but what about playing guitar, toe-tapping, and shopping. When you’re at work, get up for a few minutes each hour. Go for a little walk each break time. Start cooking your meals more (that really gets you moving). Adding a little bit of movement will burn a few more calories. Those little bits added up over a week, and a month can have an outstanding effect. I tell people looking to lose a few pounds to start looking at their snacking habits because small things added up can have a big impact. Same things with N.E.A.T. you add all the movements doing throughout the day, the week, and the month, the cumulative effect is a whole lot of extra calories burnt.
Remember, N.E.A.T. is about all the small things. As a whole, we need to start being more active in today’s world of automation. We have made great strides with all the incredible technological advances, but it has also taken away our need to move. The more we move the better off we’ll be. Jerry Seinfeld says it best “life boils down to one thing, it’s movement. To live is to keep moving”.