NEAT stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis. This is how many calories you burn during non-exercise activities. Basically, it’s the general movements that you perform during the day: walking around, getting from one place to the next. It covers all activity that falls between doing absolutely nothing (like sitting on the couch watching TV) and exercising.
Low intensity activities like walking up the stairs, going for a walk with your dog, taking the trash out, cleaning the kitchen, or playing in the yard with your kids are all part of NEAT.
Looking at the above chart, you can see that NEAT has a FAR greater impact on energy expenditure (burning calories) than exercise. Meaning, all the non-exercise movements that you do during the day actually matter!
MOVE MORE = MORE NEAT = MORE FAT LOSS
NEAT is a huge factor in fat loss, because it can completely change how much food you are able to eat to maintain your weight. The more active you are in your everyday life (everything outside of training), the more energy (calories) your body expends, the more energy (food) you need to take in, which is why it is so important to move MORE throughout the day.
For example, take a typical hour-long workout that burns maybe 300-500 calories (or much less than that for some people). At best, that probably represents less than 20% of the calories you burn in a day. If you work a sedentary job, exercise for an hour, and then go home and sit on the couch, that’s not really being very active and it’s going to be really hard to reach your goals.
If you’re thinking, “I work full time I can’t spend more time training, so I’ll just eat less”. Well more exercise and less food ISN’T always the answer. Committing more time to training isn’t always an option for people with full time jobs and/or families, and when you are constantly restricting food your body simply adjusts. Shouldn’t the goal be to eat as much food as you are able to while still getting the results you want, whether that’s fat loss or maintenance?
Instead of focusing on taking away food, focus on adding more movement—small, mindless movement.
HOW TO INCREASE YOUR NEAT
Using a pedometer or iPhone app, or wearing an activity tracker such as a FitBit are all great steps toward working to increase your low intensity movement. The more you can be aware of how much NEAT you’re getting, the better. I know people who have a goal of reaching 10,000 steps a day. That’s great, but that can be a little daunting for people.
To start, you should shoot for a minimum of 3000-5000 steps. Moving even five percent more per day, per week over time adds up really fast. Also, if you’re now focused on walking 20,000 steps a day, you’ve missed the entire point of this article.
Below are some simple ways to increase your NEAT:
- Take the stairs
- Play with your dog or walk with them an extra 10 minutes
- Go for a hike
- Park your car a good distance away when you go to the grocery store or work
- Stand up when you’re on the phone
- Perform household tasks such as sweeping, cleaning the kitchen or organizing your room
All of these things can add up over time. Again, wearing an activity tracker has tremendous value, and we’ll address that “Calories Burned” number on those devices down the road. (Yes, you should be eating close to that number).
For now, just get out and MOVE MORE.
TDEE chart via Eat to Perform