by Rob Wise
Have you ever heard the saying that losing weight can be NEAT? No, I am not being silly, there is merit behind that particular word, and the ability for the body to lose weight through expended energy through tasks we complete on a daily basis. Let me explain!
NEAT, or Non-exercise activity thermogenesis is the energy expended walking to work, typing, performing yard work, undertaking agricultural tasks and even fidgeting1. Simply put, even if I were picking up clothes around the house or working on my car, that is activity that causes to burn calories! Now, do not drop your gym membership or sell your dumbbells, NEAT is not a substitute for regular physical activity that we should be working towards on a regular and consistent basis, but is a motivational boost for us, knowing that we will be burning some calories even if we think it’s work that is not getting our heart rate up. It should motivate you that walking the dog around the neighborhood, parking further away and even taking the stairs versus the elevator will have an impact on the body’s ability to burn calories.
When we talk about thermogenesis, that is simply the body’s ability to convert energy into heat. NEAT is one of many various ways we burn calories in a given day. Think of your basal metabolic rate (how many calories your body requires for functioning, respiration, digestion, etc.), the thermo effect of the foods we eat, such as protein requiring more energy to be broken down, EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption-a conversation that can be a whole paper itself), and of course, exercise. Other factors play into this such as age, diet, gender, genetics, weight, and disease. To maximize weight loss, you want to incorporate all these factors into a plan to see the best overall results. It would be nice to say that doing laundry would burn endless calories but in the grand scheme of things the net calorie loss would be relatively low.
How many calories? Well, that depends on but let’s look at an example. You have a 175-pound person who might burn 102 calories in a job that requires them to sit for prolonged periods of time, such as an office job. This means seated they are burning around 1.7kcal/minute or about 102 calories. Now, what if this person were to stand instead of sit? We know they will burn around 180 calories per hour (doing the exact same work!). Do 78 calories seem like a lot? In a day, no, but look at a month (2,184 calories) or a year (19,500, assuming 250 workdays a year). So, by changing from sitting to standing you have the potential to lose about 5 pounds a year! This is amazing in itself and yes, the weight loss would be greater combing all the other factors, but the point is to show you simple changes in our daily habits can impact our success long term.
So how can I increase my NEAT? The idea with NEAT is the activities typically differ than those in a regimented workout. With NEAT you’re making intentional changes to everyday activities.
- Instead of parking right up in the front spot at a grocery store, park farther back
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator (if able too of course)
- Do housework, gardening and other household activities
- Cook instead of ordering out
- Go for a walk
- Some businesses now will provide their employees with standing desks!
These changes, albeit small, have an impact in the long run, and ultimately place forth the habits needed to make lifestyle changes that you’ll hopefully be able to keep up with. We don’t want to neglect planned exercise, we don’t want to lose focus on nutrition, but these planned unconscious changes to everyday habits will have a significant impact on our long-term health.
Hey, it’s a sunny weekend coming up, I think instead of taking my car through the automated wash I will go ahead and wash it by hand, and get a head start on burning those extra calories!
1. JA;, L. (n.d.). Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). Best practice & research. Clinical endocrinology & metabolism. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12468415/#:~:text=Non-exercise%20activity%20thermogenesis%20%28NEAT%29%20is%20the%20energy%20expended,performing%20yard%20work%2C%20undertaking%20agricultural%20tasks%20and%20fidgeting.