Life isn’t as simple as “calories in vs calories out.”
Sure, when it comes to weight loss, that concept is at the core. If you want to lose weight, you need to be in a calorie deficit, which means burning more calories than you are consuming.
But it’s not as simple as just burning X amount of calories through exercise.
Our total calories burned are affected by many, many factors beyond exercise alone. We’ll dive further into those factors in this post about TDEE (total daily energy expenditure).
But for now, let’s look at one component that is extremely important: NEAT.
What is NEAT?
NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.
Does that sound like gibberish to you?
Don’t worry, it’s actually a very simple concept. We just like to throw fancy sciency words on things to make ourselves sound smarter.
Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis is just a fancy way of describing all the movement you do outside of exercise.
If it burns ANY calories, it counts as part of your NEAT.
Walking the dog, pacing on a conference call, cleaning the house, and dancing in the shower are all examples of NEAT.
Your NEAT is one of 4 factors that all add up to the total calories you burn in a day (your total daily energy expenditure).
The other factors include your basal metabolic rate, physical activity, and the calories you burn from chewing & digesting food.
Structured exercise is what we tend to focus on when it comes to weight loss, but we cannot ignore the importance of NEAT. It sounds silly, but your NEAT activity can have a huge impact on your weight loss efforts.
Why is your NEAT so important?
It’s easy to say that moving more is beneficial. But something as simple as gardening really can’t make that much of a difference in your fat loss efforts, can it?
Let’s put it into perspective…
When you workout for one hour, whether weight training or cardio, that only accounts for 4% of your day.
If you sleep for 8 hours, the rest of your time awake is an opportunity to increase your NEAT levels.
That time makes up 63% of your day. That’s 63% of the time you have an opportunity to get some more movement in your life.
It should come as no surprise why your NEAT actually accounts for more energy expenditure than exercise!
That’s right: your NEAT burns more calories overall than the cardio you’re doing for your fat loss!
And weight loss aside, we should always be looking for opportunities to get more movement in our lives! There are tons of benefits to exercise that we cannot overlook.
What are some ways to increase your NEAT?
NEAT doesn’t need to be planned.
You don’t need to purposely set aside one hour to take a walk every day if your schedule doesn’t allow it.
But when an opportunity presents itself to get in some extra physical activity, I always try to take it.
Any chance to increase energy expenditure is a win in my book!
Simple tips for increasing NEAT:
1) Take some breaks during the workday to walk around the office or house. Even just 15 minutes per day will add up to a huge amount of overall steps!
2) Choose the stairs instead of the escalator when you can.
3) Pace while on the phone. I do this one naturally, but I’ve checked my activity tracker after a phone call before to see that I covered over 1 mile just pacing back and forth!
4) Take a short walk after dinner. I personally love the after-dinner walks, even if they are short, because they can really help with digestion after a large meal.
5) If you’re grocery shopping, walk down every aisle. It won’t add a ton of time to your trip, but it will help get some extra movement in!
Examples of NEAT:
Don’t overthink it. Quite literally, ALL movement counts as NEAT!
- Showering (please shower either way)
- Chasing your kids around the house
You get it.
These seemingly small activities can really add up.
Don’t get caught up trying to find the best forms of NEAT either. When it comes to movement, none of the options are a bad idea.
Sure, taking the dog for a long walk is going to provide a greater calorie burn than walking a quick lap around your backyard, but that doesn’t make the latter a bad choice.
All movement is good movement.
Well, maybe tightrope walking over a pit of snakes would be considered bad movement. Don’t do that. But otherwise, movement = great!
How do you measure your NEAT?
Put simply: you don’t.
There’s no true way to measure your NEAT levels because every single activity is so different.
Is gardening for 15 minutes equal to 3 minutes of dancing in the shower? Maybe. But I don’t think anyone has come up with the gardening-to-dancing conversion scale just yet.
We don’t need to universally aim for 10,000 steps or a certain amount of time on our feet. Personally, I do try to hit specific movement goals for myself, but they are based exclusively on my own goals and my own lifestyle.
Rather than setting super-specific goals for yourself, just take more opportunities to get some extra physical activity in when they present themselves.
We can all benefit from more movement in our lives.
Whether the goal is to burn calories for weight loss, or simply to live an overall healthy life, moving more is never a bad idea (if you are able, of course).
If you have an active job where you are on your feet all day, your NEAT is already going to be pretty high, and it’s not something you need to worry about.
But with so many of us working desk jobs, being students, and spending so much time using technology, it can be easy to go the entire day with very little movement.
That is why it is so important to try to get some extra movement in and focus on your NEAT!