Physical inactivity is now recognized as one of the biggest health problems in the 21st century. It is up there with smoking and obesity. We all know it is better to take the stairs rather than the escalator, but how much does this actually help us lose weight?
Non-exercise activity thermogensis, or NEAT, is the energy we spend during the day essentially ‘figiditing’. These movements are not planned and spontaneous with no real purpose. Examples include tapping feet, leg shaking, standing and general pottering about. After all, the people who can’t sit still are generally the ones who are always thin!
But what if you are someone who goes to the gym 3-5 times a week. It shouldn’t matter if you sit down and are not as active for the rest of the day as you have already ‘burnt’ of your daily calories? Wrong. Amazingly, NEAT is the predominant component of energy expenditure and usually burns off more calories than are structure planned exercise. Even for those people who exercise regularly, they still burn more calories through all those unnecessary movements. Have a look at the calorie expenditure that is possible through NEAT.
NEAT is the predominant component of energy expenditure and usually burns off more calories than any structured planned exercise.
So how do you increase your NEAT?
There are loads of ways to try and increase NEAT. Here are a few things you can try:
- Stair walking. This may be obvious but is very difficult to turn into a habit. More often we do it once or twice but make it something you should do EVERY TIME. Imagine the lift is Radioactive, the more time spent in it the more chance of you dying. If you work on the 10th floor, then you are very lucky. Arrive earlier and walk up the stairs, and you have a workout right there. Using the stairs is also great for strength as well as burning calories.
- Walk, cycle or using public transport to get to about or to work. There is a lot of research to suggest that public transport requires more calories due to moving around like standing on the bus, letting people on and off etc. Be the person to give up your sit to the old granny, take it as an opportunity to boost your NEAT. Sitting still driving a car requires very few calories (and pushing the pedals with your feet doesn’t count).
- Getting up frequently. If you are fortunate enough (or unfortunate as is the case) to have a desk job, having a STEP count target (e.g. 10,000 steps/day) or a device that reminds you to get up and move every so often will help you burn those calories. A colleague of mine has taken this to the next level and does press-ups in-between patients! Get up and make excuses to move around whether it’s making tea, going to the shops or going to the loo. A standing desk is ideal.
- Stretching. Getting up and having a good stretch not only keeps us active but improves our circulation and cerebral blood flow and therefore aids our concentration.
- Go get things yourself. Don’t rely on someone to ‘pass the stapler’. Even the action of reaching across a table to pick something up is contributing to your NEAT!
- Practicing sport moves whenever you can. By being the person who practices their golf swing in the shower, you are burning calories AND improving technique. A true win win!
The table below highlights how much NEAT can vary between different occupations. Now imagine how much you can increase your calorie expenditure by making a few adaptations.
So remember, it is not enough to exercise and then sit around all day. Most of our calories are spent doing the smaller unplanned movements. It is the habits we form that will ultimately help us lose the most weight. Have a think about how you can put more NEAT into your day, good luck!