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Be NEAT if you can’t EAT

For all those people who have a tough time sticking to a gym routine or workout routine, we are here to give some good news. In fact, it’s pretty NEAT, quite literally. An acronym for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, NEAT is the energy we spend in everything we do that does not include sleeping, eating, sports or gym exercises. To be more specific, it constitutes the energy expended walking to work, typing, performing garden work, undertaking agricultural tasks and fidgeting.

Even if you’re one of those disciplined fitness buffs, NEAT results in a bigger contribution to total daily energy expenditure than additional exercise will. What makes NEAT practical and do-able for everyone?

With the weight loss industry growing phenomenally every passing day, NEAT has taken a back seat and is grossly underestimated, when it comes to expending energy. In general, we perceive formal exercising as the only activity that aids in burning calories instantly, but that is not entirely the case. Exercise does not burn as many calories as we calculate. For example, one hour of lifting weights in burns only around 180 calories and possibly even less depending on your size.

Whereas the amount of calories you can burn by staying as active as possible throughout the day (even at a much lower pace or intensity than at the gym) will have a far bigger impact on your daily energy expenditure.

To get a clearer picture, take a look at the details of what happens during each activity in the graph below:-

Let’s expand the energy terms for a better understanding:-

- BMR - Basal metabolic rate

The amount of calories you need just to breathe and stay alive

- TEF - Thermic effect of food

The amount of calories it takes to digest and process your food

- EAT - Exercise activity thermogenesis

The calories used during exercise

- NEAT - Non exercise activity thermogenesis

The calories used for activity that is not formal exercise.

How do we interpret this data?

The graph shows the standard contribution of each. Obviously if you are an elite athlete training for hours a day, the calories you burn during exercise will play a bigger role. But for those who work out regularly this is a good indication.

We can’t influence BMR or TEF to any meaningful extent, but what we can do is influence EAT and NEAT. If you are already big on working out every day, then NEAT is in many ways easier to increase and will result in a bigger contribution to total daily energy expenditure than additional exercise will. Unless of course you have the time and motivation to exercise for hours a day.

Another reason why NEAT is so important when considering fitness goals, is that you often subconsciously reduce your activity levels when reducing your calorie intake. Restrictive diets may also hamper the performance of your ability to exercise at high intensity, thus hampering your EAT and overall fitness/strength goals too. Unfortunately this can mean that the deficit in energy you thought you had created is much smaller, or in some cases non-existent!

Some studies conducted on mice show that the difference in weight lost between mice on the same diet was directly attributable to the extent to which they reduced their activity levels. People respond differently to diets and their level of NEAT is one of the reasons that some people lose more or less weight even if they stick to the same diet.

What happens to NEAT when you’re on a diet?

What may now seem like an unfair response to reduced food intake does have good reasoning. Reducing your activity levels in response to less energy intake is a way of saving calories and did at one point provide an important evolutionary advantage. In times when food was sparse, this response would have worked to avoid starvation.

However, nowadays we are more likely to be overweight than to starve, so this evolutionary trait has somewhat back fired.

There is a silver lining though! Now that we know that reduced NEAT can hamper our fat loss / fitness goals and that increased NEAT may help them, we can explore ways in which we can consciously maximise our NEAT.

7 ways to increase your NEAT:

1) Walk more

This one seems very obvious but if you can walk somewhere then walk! Or cycle.

2) Park further away

We always tend to try and find the parking spot closest to our destination. Changing this up so that you park further away can help you get your step count up and may even help in elevating your mood.

3) Commute actively

Can you cycle, walk or speed walk to work? Or, can you get off the bus a stop early and get in some extra steps on your way? Make this a part of your everyday travel and it will soon become a way of life.

4) Movement is everything

Keep moving during short breaks at work. Or even better take short breaks to walk up and down or simply stretch, bend, do anything but move. Inevitably, many of us have sedentary jobs. Now, we can’t obviously put in the papers and move out to get active, right? The next best option is to work with your environment and do what you can. Instead of going straight to the lunchroom or grab a bite at your desk, why not taking a 10 min walk before hand or a short walk during your coffee break.

You’ll often find your productivity, creativity and alertness is also heightened after some fresh air and a good stretch of the legs.

5) Get a Fitbit

Psychologically, fitness gadgets that count steps or tracks activity, makes us accountable in some way. And when we measure it, we also manage it consistently. We start to subconsciously become more active, because we know we have to make it as closest as possible to the recommended steps we need to take every day. And when we achieve that goal, we feel more motivated to get that high-five from the gadget regularly.

6) Take the stairs

This may seem like a small, insignificant change but doing it at every opportunity will make a difference.

7) Can you be both active and productive?

Can you do your mundane emails or admin on your phone while out for a walk or on the treadmill or bike at the gym?

Can you have meetings with your co-workers while walking rather than sitting in offices?

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