What is NEAT?
NEAT (I know, I know….not a fan of acronyms over here either) stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis. Simply put, this is movement that burns calories throughout your day. Think of it as standing, walking, cleaning, even fidgeting. NEAT is arguably just as important in terms of overall health as your time spent in the gym and can largely effect your number of calories expended throughout the day.
Why does it matter?
Consider someone who works a desk job and sits all day compared to someone who is constantly on their feet moving around such as a waitress, doctor, nurse, coach, etc. Not only is the person constantly moving going to burn more calories per day than the person bound to a desk most of the day, but I think most of us know the various health risks that come with living a sedentary life.
While this may feel like a no brainer to some, there are plenty of people who exercise and wonder why they aren’t losing the weight they want (the flip side of this is that there are also people who and are wondering why they aren’t GAINING the weight they want, which can also have a lot to do with NEAT, just too much of it).
How to Optimize NEAT:
The easiest way to estimate whether or not you are getting enough movement in throughout the day is through tracking steps, whether it be with an Apple watch, Fitbit, Garmin, etc. For someone who is otherwise more sedentary, a goal of 8-10k steps a day is a great starting point. The first step is to be aware of how much you are (or aren’t) moving throughout the day. It’s great to start out tracking your steps for a few days without doing anything that you wouldn’t normally do, so you can see where your baseline is and then shoot to do what you can to increase the number of steps daily. Just like anything else, this is a better approach than going from 0 to 100, sustainability wise. It is also better to spread your movement throughout the day so that you aren’t walking on the treadmill at the gym for some unnecessary amount of time, but sitting or being a couch potato the rest of the day. The goal shouldn’t be just about hitting the number of steps, it should be increasing your overall movement.
If you work a desk job, this isn’t to say you’re sentenced to a sedentary life. Below are just a few ideas on how you might add in some extra movement throughout your day:
- Park your car further away
- Take small breaks throughout the day and use them to walk around
- Start/end your day with a walk
- Take the stairs instead of elevator
- Play with your kids/dog
- Switch to a standing desk