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What is NEAT?


"Increase your NEAT", "focus on your NEAT", "get your NEAT up". All phrases that are being thrown around the fitness and weight loss space more frequently without really considering that lots of people don't really understand what 'NEAT' is.


Defining NEAT


NEAT, or Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, is the energy expended by our body to do everything except exercise, sleep and eat (1). This includes most things such as walking to the car, laughing, fidgeting and cleaning the toilet. NEAT is the largest controllable aspect of our daily energy expenditure. Yes, bigger than exercise itself. An individual with a manual job just as farming or construction will have a very high level of NEAT given that they are on the move constantly, carrying things, walking and controlling machinery. Compare this to an office worker who sits at a desk for 6 hours, doesn't get up to eat their lunch and moves only to type on their computer and we can see how people have highly variable levels of NEAT.


NEAT and its relationship with weight loss


Where the term NEAT is being increasingly used is in relation to weight loss. This is unsurprising when we consider that NEAT is a bigger contributor to our daily energy expenditure than structured exercise. Hence, making small changes to the way that we move everyday can have a huge impact on our body composition. Studies have shown that NEAT can vary between two people of a similar size by up to 2000kcal (2).


Killing yourself in the gym seven days a week is no guarantor for weight loss (particularly when we consider that this probably isn't sustainable anyway). In fact, putting yourself in the bin every session is likely to decrease your daily NEAT when we consider that you probably will want to limit your movement as much as possible for the rest of the day. Instead, partnering exercise that makes us feel good with increased daily movement is a much better and more sustainable way to lose weight.


Why increasing your NEAT is important for much more than just weight loss


Studies show that lower levels of NEAT not only correspond with levels of obesity, but with mental illness too (3). Consider how much better you feel when you've spent the day moving more. Maybe you went for a walk with a friend, cleaned the bathroom and played with the kids in the park. That's a lot more movement than if you'd been sat watching films all day. Of course we all need those days when we relax a bit more, but don't you just feel better for moving more? Increasing your NEAT is likely to improve your mental health, make you feel more energised and just help you get more stuff done! It's time that we stopped looking at everything solely as a tool for weight loss but as a way to benefit our wellbeing and lifestyle.


Easy ways to increase your NEAT


- Take phone calls on your feet.

- Take the stairs (we've heard it all before).

- Park your car further away from work/the shops.

- Ditch the car altogether. For example, always walk to take the kids to/from school if time allows.

- Get off the bus/train/tube a stop earlier.

- Set up a standing desk.

- Fidget more.

- Stretch.

- Play with the kids in the park rather than just watch. Or rather play with the kids more in general.

- Do the manual labour yourself. Do you really need to hire someone to paint the downstairs toilet?


Sources


(1) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12468415/

(2) https://www.health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/use-the-neat-factor-nonexercise-activity-thermogenesis-to-burn-calories

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4718301/

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