What Is Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)

Obesity is a leading and preventable cause of death worldwide, yet obesity rates continue to climb each year, with the worldwide prevalence reaching 700 million. Recently, there has been a large shift towards less physically demanding work, working remote, and currently at least 30% of the world's population lacks sufficient physical activity. Finding ways to include human movement through non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), is crucial to maintain healthy and manageable weight, for optimal health and wellness.

What Is Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) 

Non-energy exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) is the energy expended conducting normal day activities other than planned exercise and training, or (sleeping, eating, and breathing). NEAT includes activities such as walking, cooking, cleaning, yardwork, and involuntary movements like fidgeting.

While it may seem small, even trivial movements and activities substantially increase metabolic rate and the calorie burning process and attribute to the cumulative effect of NEAT. A cohort study published in the American Journal Of Preventative Medicine, followed 12,778 women for 12 years to investigate the effects of fidgeting and sedentary time on mortality rates. Results found that fidgeting may reduce the risk of death associated with excessive sedentary time [R]

NEAT Can Help With Weight Loss

Utilizing NEAT can help support weight your loss goals. Manipulation of energy balance through food intake including thermogenic foods and supplements can substantially burn more calories putting you in a caloric deficit. A calorie deficit occurs when the number of calories a person consumes in a day is smaller than the number of calories they burn. Over time, this calorie reduction can lead to weight loss.

With the large shift in working remote, through a greater prevalence of labor-saving technology, and societal factors have caused a progressive and systematic decline in energy expenditure, resulting in a sustained positive energy balance, or (calorie surplus). Sedentary behaviors and habits such as prolonged sitting, without physical activity, are associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases and decreased life expectancy.

Engaging in spontaneous non-exercise related activities, during the day can enhance your weight loss results, and cumulatively burn more calories. In fact, energy expenditure induced by NEAT is much larger than exercise associated thermogenesis (EAT) when measured throughout the day. NEAT can accumulate overtime, eventually becoming an important factor in weight loss or weight gain.

According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) A 145 lb. person burns approximately 102 calories an hour while performing their office job in a seated position (1.7 kcal / minute) but burns 174 calories an hour if performing those same office duties while standing.

174 calories may not seem like much, but it translates to 18,000 calories or a little over 5 lbs. over a 50-week work year (250 workdays). By comparison, that same person would need to perform 60, 30-minute runs at 5 mph to achieve that same caloric burn.

Ways To Incorporate NEAT

We’ve listed a few examples, by which you can incorporate NEAT into your daily routine. Remember, although NEAT does not account for a ton of added burned calories, over time the cumulative effect of NEAT can be quite substantial.

  • Walk your dog more than one time per day
  • Wash your car by hand, instead of taking it through the car wash
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Stand, instead of sitting all day at the desk
  • Take a few 15-minute breaks to take a walk
  • Pace while talking on the phone
  • Do you own yardwork
  • Ride your bike instead of driving

Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis: Takeaway 

Diet and exercise are the tried-and-true methods of body recomposition. But there are other ways in which you can contribute to overall caloric burn. That’s where non-exercise activity thermogenesis comes into play. If you find yourself sedentary for most of the day, find ways to become more active. Instead of sitting, stand for a certain amount of time each day while you work. Go for a short walk, or perhaps a few shorts walks during the day. As little as just 100 extra calories burned per day, translates to approximately 10½ lbs. lost in a year. Though, achieving your health and fitness goals, may take time, with consistency will come results.  

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Hagger-Johnson G, Gow AJ, Burley V, Greenwood D, Cade JE. Sitting time, fidgeting, and all-cause mortality in the UK Women's Cohort StudyAmerican Journal of Preventative Medicine. 2016;50(2):154-160. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2015.06.025

Obesity and overweight Fact sheet N311 2016. WHO; [Google Scholar] [Ref list]

Sedentary behavior: emerging evidence for a new health risk.Owen N, Sparling PB, Healy GN, Dunstan DW, Matthews CE Mayo Clin Proc. 2010 Dec; 85(12):1138-41.[PubMed] [Ref list]

Review Nonexercise activity thermogenesis--liberating the life-force. Levine JA J Intern Med. 2007 Sep; 262(3):273-87.[PubMed] [Ref list]

Ainsworth, BE, Haskell, WL, Herrmann, SD, Meckes, N, Bassett, DR, Tudor-Locke, C, Greer, JL, Vezina, J, Whitt-Glover, MC, and Leon, AS, (2011). 2011 compendium of physical activities: a second update of codes and MET values. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 43(3):1575-1581.

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