Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) and Health

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NEAT or non-exercise activity thermogenesis are the movements we make when we go about our daily business. NEAT includes the physical movement in our lives that isn't planned exercise or sports—sleeping and eating don't count either. Examples of NEAT include activities such as cooking, shopping, and even small movements such as fidgeting. While it might not seem like a lot, it turns out that NEAT can have quite a substantial impact on our metabolic rates and calorie expenditures.

How many calories NEAT burns can vary from person to person. A 2014 study found that a number of calories burned from NEAT vary by up to 2000 kilocalories day between two individuals of similar size. There are a number of factors which can account for this difference, including environment and genetics. Your job and lifestyle can also influence NEAT; as two people with similar BMIs, but different jobs–sedentary versus active–will likely burn different calorie amounts.   

Using NEAT to Improve Your Physical Health

NEAT is thought to be one of the ways our bodies manage our weight. If we gain weight, NEAT tends to rise; whereas when we lose weight, NEAT often plummets, and people end up sitting more without moving as much. As NEAT researcher James Levine puts it, "We may come to appreciate that spontaneous physical activity is not spontaneous at all but carefully programmed."

Ways to Incorporate NEAT Into Your Life 

There are small ways you can incorporate NEAT into your life.

At work, and at home, opt for a standing desk instead of sitting. You can also use a stability ball in lieu of, or in addition to, a standing desk. 

According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, a 145 lb. person can expect to burn approximately 102 calories an hour while sitting at work. If that person stood while working, they would burn 174 calories.

An extra 72 calories might not seem like a lot, but it can add up to more than 18,000 calories burned per year, leading to an approximate 5 lb. weight loss. Without utilizing NEAT, you would have to do 60 30-minute runs at 5 miles per hour to burn the same rate of calories. 

If you are waiting in line or sitting stuck in traffic, find small ways to move. It may not burn as many calories as going for a jog, but even tapping your foot or bobbing your head helps your body take advantage of NEAT. Make conscious decisions to move and use your body more. If you are going food shopping, carry a basket instead of using a cart. At the mall? Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator. 

Sources:

Levine JA. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). Best Practice Res in Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 16: 679–702, 2002.

Levine JA. Nonexercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT): environment and biology. American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism 286(5): E675-E685. May 1, 2004.

National Academy of Sports Medicine. A NEAT Approach to Weight Loss. 

von Loeffelholz, C. The Role of Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis in Human Obesity. EndoText. 2014. 

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