“Non-exercise activity thermogenesis,” also known as NEAT, is a fancy term for the energy you expend during the day whenever you’re not sleeping, eating, or doing purposeful exercise (like sports or gym workouts). You engage in NEAT by just walking about the house or office, hurrying to catch a bus, doing yard work, cleaning, or even fidgeting. This activity, though you hardly think about it, can quickly add up.
You may have heard that exercise, while beneficial, doesn’t have as much of an effect on weight loss as people think. What does have more of an impact on weight loss is NEAT activity. This is because how you move throughout the day is responsible for far more energy usage than a single workout. When you move, your mitochondria receive a signal to produce extra energy, not just during exercise but throughout the day.
Furthermore, NEAT mitigates the risk of sedentary behavior. Moving throughout the day uses up the adenosine triphosphate (ATP) produced by your mitochondria and reduces the accumulation of cellular exhaust (ROS), a consequence of energy generation.
The connection between what we eat and how we move
What we might think of as “spontaneous movement” isn’t always spontaneous. It’s energy-based. Humans and animals naturally move more when eating more and less when eating less.
Since it’s become so easy to overeat and skip exercise in our culture, we have overridden this natural impulse, but you can start to correct this by being intentional about moving more. You can get back in sync with your appetite cues if you avoid sitting for lengthy periods of time and move your body at least every thirty minutes or so throughout the day.
Some NEAT ideas to incorporate into your day
Here are some more easy strategies to boost your NEAT. All of these will greatly increase your daily step count and fuel consumption:
Move more at home
Try to cook meals from scratch, clean with gusto, and don’t shy away from physically demanding chores like yard work.
Reduce your screen time
Make sure to limit your screen time. You might even consider only allowing yourself screen time once you’ve got your steps in.
Move during your media time
Walk around, fold laundry, do the washing up, or engage in simple exercises while watching your favorite show or listening to a podcast.
Be intentional about walking more in general. Up your step count by strolling while on the phone, or opting to walk or bike instead of taking a car whenever possible.
Move on your breaks
Instead of scrolling through your phone while out on a coffee break or killing time between classes, try strolling down the hallway or around the building or neighborhood.
Get up earlier
According to studies, those in midlife who wake up earlier tend to walk between 20 and 30 minutes more than people who stay up late and sleep in.
Walk your grocery bags into the house and/or put things away one at a time. Skip the escalator and go for the stairs. Find ways to make inefficiency work for you.
Move after meals
Try to make a habit to walk for at least fifteen minutes after each meal.
Move for creativity
If you have to think through a problem or brainstorm on a topic, walk around while doing so. Research shows that those who walk are 81 to 100 percent more creative than those who stay seated.
Socialize on the go
Instead of going out for a meal or meeting at a café with friends, choose an activity to do together like group workouts or booking a yoga class together,
Walk the dog
Dog owners usually get more steps during the day than non-dog owners. According to this study, dog owners took around 2,760 steps per day. They are also four times more likely to meet the physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes per week.
Employ the three-for-thirty rule
Use technology to your advantage by setting alarms or reminders on your smartwatch or phone that will prompt you to move for three minutes for every 30 minutes you’re at your desk.
Park far away from the entrance
Rather than searching for the nearest parking spot, choose to park at the far end of the lot.
Move at your desk
Even at your desk you can still swivel in your chair, stretch your arms, twist your torso, do some squats, and other little actions to break up the stagnation.