Let’s Chat About NEAT: Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis
Movement should enrich your life, not consume it. Finding small ways throughout the day to move your body a little bit extra can be extremely beneficial to your body and mind. I mean, think about Newton’s first law of motion: objects in motion stay in motion. The more we move throughout the day, the more we will be inclined to continue. So let’s chat about all the little things we can do throughout the day to stay moving. Let’s chat about NEAT, a.k.a. non-exercise activity thermogenesis.
- Non-exercise activity thermogenesis any, and all, the movement we do throughout the day that isn’t intentional exercise, eating, sleeping, or breathing.
- NEAT is one of the most effective ways our bodies manage our weight.
- Different ways to practice NEAT throughout the day include pacing while talking on the phone, carrying a grocery basket, dancing, and taking the stairs (just to name a few.)
What is NEAT?
Let’s talk about the privilege of movement really quickly. We get to move our bodies every day. We get to lift heavy things and run really fast. Having the opportunity to do all of these things is not an obligation, burden, or frustration, but rather, something we should be extremely grateful for. The liberty of movement is one that should be recognized and honored daily, but that doesn’t necessarily mean hitting the gym for an intense cardio sesh every single day is healthy or enjoyable.
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis may sound like a mouthful, but if we cut down to the basics, it is essentially just the calories we burn as we casually go about our days. This includes the energy we expend doing everything except for eating, sleeping, breathing, and intentionally exercising (hence the non-exercise). Often, it is also referred to as NEPA, which stands for non-exercise physical activity.
Rather than examining the 30 to 60 minutes a day that some of us spend exercising, researchers have begun to investigate the other 110 to 115 hours a week that we spend doing just about everything else. This includes walking up the stairs to your apartment, taking a trip to the mailbox to grab the mail, or even simple activities such as carrying a basket at the grocery store rather than pushing a cart.
NEAT is not only a free but also incredibly freeing tool that you have at your disposal to use whenever, and wherever, and that acts as a direct support system for your overall health. Think of it as a sustainable and easy way to make significant improvements in your energy levels, metabolism, and overall wellbeing. This is your reminder that intentional movement throughout the day doesn’t have to look like gym exercise. Being mindful of the different ways to incorporate more movement into largely sedentary days can take creativity, but they are definitely possible.
Our individual jobs, careers, daily schedules, and day-to-day tasks (as well as our genetics) can largely impact our daily NEAT levels. Nurses, teachers, or waiters and waitresses – or really any occupation that requires you to be on your feet for hours a day – all have high enough levels of NEAT to make us green-eyed and covetous. Of course, being forced to remain on your feet for hours on end has its own problems. For the rest of us that are glued to our seats sending emails from nine to five, NEAT levels can be generally horrifying. The difference in NEAT levels between active and sedentary jobs can be upward of hundreds and hundreds of calories.
Why you should incorporate NEAT into your day
Let’s be honest, it’s easy to think that going to the gym for an hour a day makes up for the other 9 hours we spend sitting down. Without undermining gym time, (you go, girl, seriously!) the number of calories that you could burn throughout the day by practicing non-exercising, but intentional movement, can add up to, and even surpass, the number of calories burned at the gym.
NEAT researcher James Levine puts it best: “We may come to appreciate that spontaneous physical activity is not spontaneous at all, but carefully programmed.” Non-exercise activity thermogenesis is theorized to be one of the most effective ways our bodies manage weight. That being said, doing household chores, pacing while talking on the phone, or using a standing desk at work are carefully programmed ways that your body keeps its health in check.
Dr. James Levine also notes in his research that the number of calories burned each day by those who practice intentional movement versus those that don’t can vary by up to 2000 calories a day in two people of the same size. This means, that by getting up and moving a little bit extra each day like we were *carefully programmed* and designed to do as humans, you can burn up to 2000 extra calories a day, without even trying.
Additionally, the benefits of NEAT extend well beyond just calories burned. More NEAT in your life translates directly into less risk of metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular diseases, and even death from any and all causes. Even more, it’s time to start using NEAT as a way to complement our exercise; using NEAT to fight sedentary habits can help you reap extra, tremendous benefits from your workouts. Being inactive in every area of your life (besides working out) can actually negate all the hard work you put into your workouts. So make those deadlifts, sprints, yoga postures, or swim laps count. Make NEAT a priority.
How to incorporate NEAT into your day
It may seem challenging to make yourself move throughout the day, especially when you feel stuck in your daily habits or confined to your chair. But if you have the ability to move, it's easier than you may think to get creative and prioritize your body and mind. Here are a few creative ways to add NEAT into your daily ritual:
- Take hourly laps around your office to the restroom or water fountain.
- If you can do so, walk to wherever you’re going.
- Stand when you can.
- Take the stairs.
- Carry a grocery basket instead of pushing a cart.
- If you arrive somewhere too early, walk around.
- While taking phone calls, listening to podcasts, listening to your Zoom meeting for work, walk around!
- Take note of moments and areas where you find yourself sitting around a lot and brainstorm creative ways to spend these moments standing or walking.
- Tap your feet, bob your head, dance, and sing your heart out in the car! (a.k.a. have a little carpool karaoke session. Dancing is always healthy!)
Keep in mind that this kind of movement should start to feel natural in order to keep it up. Evaluate your experiences practicing non-exercise activity thermogenesis and take note of the strategies you don’t like. There are a plethora of ways to get creative with your NEAT: don’t settle for those that bring discomfort or require force.
Remember, objects in motion stay in motion. Once you get into your NEAT groove, it will feel natural to just keep moving. Practicing intentional movement when possible, letting go of any “musts,” and experiencing movement in all of its forms allows us to fully appreciate the privilege of movement. It allows us to fall into a fitness “vibe” that continually adds value and meaning to every area of our lives. Remember, we don’t have to move, we get to move. It's cheesy but undeniable. Start practicing your non-exercise activity thermogenesis, and watch the gratitude for your body grow. NEAT is neat!
Written by Morgan Taylor