NEAT, or non-exercise activity thermogenesis, can be defined as essentially any activity that is not intentional physical activity. An easy way to think of this is to think about what you do during the day: participating in things you enjoy, going to work, leisure hours, fidgeting, walking to and from places, playing with your hair, etc. The list can go on – but anything that takes up your time day to day is considering NEAT.
The interesting thing is, no matter the lifestyle you lead (whether or not you intentionally train, keep active, or work at making healthy lifestyle- or physique-related changes), NEAT will always be a large variable at play.
Why is this?
Well think about it – we all have things day to day that we take part in. Certain routines we stick to, differing occupations and lifestyles, differing interests and priorities. If one is already physically active and working at certain body composition changes, NEAT will be an important factor in subsequent metabolic adaptations over time (in the context of dieting). If one isn’t consistently active, NEAT becomes an even more variable part of their lifestyle since they do not have physical activity to account for within their daily activity.
No matter what, NEAT is expended every day.
What impacts our NEAT?
With that said, NEAT is an often-overlooked variable, especially when we assess those who are dieting and the metabolic adaptations that come along with it.
Some of the most common factors that influence our NEAT include:
Some jobs will be much more active than others (hard labor/construction jobs versus sedentary desk jobs, for example)
Can or do you tend to walk to a lot of places? Or are you in a busy area where walking to and from just isn’t feasible? Small facets of your day can add into this value, whether it be walking to and from your car, walking to class, drive-throughs, the use of escalators or elevators versus using the stairs and much more. Weather/seasonal changes can be a player here as well granted it’s permitting – I mean, no one wants to take a walk outside during a snowstorm…
Hobbies! What do you do for leisure time? Do you keep active during break hours and off days from work? Walking the dog, shopping or running errands, recreational activity to do with others, household chores, and so much more.
Goals, energy balance, and weight loss/gain
This refers to what you’re doing currently. Are you dieting at the moment? A common metabolic adaptation to dieting consists of our total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) dropping as we continue to lose weight/body fat. Being in a caloric deficit for prolonged periods of time leads to lower total energy for our daily tasks, which then means lower overall activity. All of this results in lower NEAT for the dieter. On the other hand, if you’re fresh out of a diet and increasing your intake you’ll experience a bump in energy, expend more energy day to day as a result. This results in having a much higher NEAT in your day compared to when you were dieting.
We’ve heard it time and time again, but staying active and keeping some idea of how much activity you do each day can be quite impactful! Research shows us that NEAT can vary between person to person by up to 2000 calories a day – this is a big area we’ll want to capitalize on, especially if it’s a simple adjustment we can make.
NEAT-promoting habits you can implement
I’m not saying you have to do a complete 180 and start taking hikes every week or downright change your hobbies, but there are a few simple changes we can make in order to encourage more movement within your preexisting lifestyle if you find that this area looks a little weaker than you’d like it to be. This is also important for dieters as well, as NEAT is an area to keep a close eye on as you continue to diet down and monitor stalling points. Without even realizing it, your NEAT could be dropping, which just hinders further movement that you’re looking for.
Here are some good ways to increase your daily NEAT:
- Sit less, stand more. For those who work sedentary jobs, this can be a huge addition to your day. Standing desks (or standing desk converters like this) are perfect for this.
- Implement some post-meal walks in your day. Getting in 1-2, 10-minute walks is not only a great way to up your step count, but also very helpful with aiding in digestion and improving insulin sensitivity. If you have a dog, they would really appreciate some more walks with you too!
- Make an effort to do more in a gradual manner. Parking farther away when out and about, keeping track of your step count, taking the stairs instead of the escalator, moving more during break hours, making a point to take breaks that don’t include sitting on your phone or computer), and the like.
Occupations and locations are huge determinants of what our clients are able to do each day activity-wise. Although, if we can adapt our individual lifestyles in easy, reasonable (and oftentimes discreet) ways and maximize what we do day to day, we’re in a prime position to make an impact on our overall caloric expenditure, thus positively impacting our health-, wellness-, and physique-related goals.
Levine, J.A., Vander, M.W., Hill, J.O., Klesges, R.C. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis the crouching tiger hidden dragon of societal weight gain. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2006. DOI: 10.1161/01.ATV.0000205848.83210.73
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