Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) is the ‘energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise.
It ranges from the energy expended walking to work, typing, performing yard work, undertaking agricultural tasks and fidgeting’ (Levine, 2002).
It goes without saying that our main tool for fat loss (from a physical activity point of view) is exercise. Whilst the debate over whether that exercise is LISS or HIIT is best left for another blog post, the utilization of macronutrients as substrates via exercise is vital in creating positive physiological adaptations that will fuel the metabolic fire and assist in creating an energy deficit.
Whilst we tend to consciously plan our exercise program, what we don’t often plan is how we can supplement it with less structured but still valuable every day physical activities.
Trivial physical activities increase our metabolic rate substantially and it is the combination of such a potential multitude of activities that increase our exothermic reactions (breaking down of substrates to provide us with energy) and subsequently our activity levels.
Components of Daily Energy Expenditure
- Basal/resting metabolic rate– this is the energy required for core body functions including heart and brain function, breathing, and regulation of body temperature for example, and accounts for approximately 60% of the daily energy expenditure of a sedentary person (although body type plays a part in any differences).
- Thermic effect of food– this is the energy required to digest and absorb food and store it as energy and accounts for around 10% of total daily energy expenditure (it doesn’t change massively from person to person)
- Activity thermogenesis (activity energy expenditure)– this can be divided into structured, volitional exercise and NEAT. This of course be differ massively from person to person based on how active they are.
The Importance of NEAT in fat loss and healthy lifestyles
I’ve come across many people that strive for fat loss but consider an hours’ exercise a few days a week to be all that is required– most people think that volitional exercise is the only way to expend energy. Both fat loss and fat maintenance can be made easier with the inclusion of regular physical activities.
Essentially, NEAT increases metabolic rate and results in a potentially substantial energy cost on a daily basis.
If you have a manual job you are well on your way to having a high NEAT and to an extend this is less important to you if that is the case. There are also a number of other basic activities that you can employ (don’t underestimate the importance of these).
- Walking to work instead of going by car
- Using stairs instead of the lift
- Standing instead of sitting
- Cleaning the house with music on (which in theory means you’re more likely to break into a bit of a dance!)
- Playing with the kids
Good old fashioned walking is obviously one of the most accessible NEAT activities. Planning to walk with friends is a great social activity. From a biochemical point of view it clears your mind and allows you to have more open conversations (it can also decrease your inhibitions somewhat so be careful what you are saying!).
Even on your own walking is great but obviously make sure you tell people where you are going and what your planned route is for safety, as well as making sure you take a fully charged phone with you, warm clothing, a map if necessary, and some food and drink .
Not only does walking increase your NEAT but it is a great way to increase natural levels of the ‘sunshine hormone’ vitamin D, which in turn can boost your immune system and reduce systemic inflammation (inflammation has been linked to increased stress hormone circulation and subsequently fat gain).
Walking can also stimulate a part of the nervous system (parasympathetic) that reduces stress hormone circulation helping you to sleep better (a combination of fresh air, energy expenditure and reduced stress).
So if you lack daily activities away from your exercise sessions then hopefully you’ve got a few ideas on how to integrate it into your daily routine.
NEAT is a beneficial addition for those that want to increase their energy turnover but run the risk of training excessively and burning out. It also means that you can choose activities that don’t exclude your family and friends.
Levine, JA (2002) ‘Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT)’. Best Pract Clin Endocrinol. Metab. 16(4): 679-702