Many of us are looking to maximize our daily activity and caloric output. However, there’s only so much exercise one can realistically and healthfully fit into a day. But there are other ways to keep our metabolism humming like non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT).
NEAT is a component of daily metabolism that is often overlooked and specifically refers to the energy expended by doing activities unrelated to other metabolic functions. Other well-known components of metabolism include physical activity, thermic effect of food, which is the energy expended digesting, and basal metabolic rate (BMR), which includes energy used completing basic functions of life (sleeping, breathing, etc.)
NEAT, therefore, encompasses energy expended doing everything other than digesting food and completing basic functions. This includes a wide range of activities such as maintaining posture while reading this article, walking from your office desk to the restroom, gardening, loading groceries, cleaning, typing on a computer, clicking a pen, etc.
There are thousands of activities that fall into this category, resulting in NEAT being the most variable and controllable aspect of daily metabolism. While activities such as fidgeting can seem small and meaningless, manipulating your total daily NEAT can have a real impact on calorie expenditure and weight control. In fact, a low-level NEAT is associated with obesity.
Adults engaged in athletic training are often instructed to rest, reduce time on their feet, get extra sleep, and generally reduce activity outside of the purposeful exercise. This is thought to preserve energy stores for performance goals and reduce the risk of injury and fatigue. However, research shows even moderate to intense physical activity does not compensate for sedentary behaviors, even in elite athletes. These fitness-oriented people can actually help improve lean tissue and weight management through increased NEAT.
Here are ways to improve your daily NEAT to keep a high metabolic level each day:
Look around and assess your daily environment. Identify where you spend large chunks of time, along with mapping out your general movements. From here, you can begin to target problem areas (taking the elevator instead of the stairs or sitting at a desk for hours instead of taking quick, short breaks to walk and move) and work out a plan of attack. For example, if you typically drive from store to store in a strip mall, park at one end and walk to each store. Another example would be to track steps each day and try to meet a specific daily goal by taking the stairs and getting up from your work station for short walks to fill a water bottle or get a breath of fresh air.
Chores are not always fun, but they add a decent amount of daily calorie burn. Start the week by making a checklist of household things that need accomplishing — vacuuming, cleaning windows, laundry, dusting, taking out the trash, grocery shopping, gardening, etc. — and break the workload into a daily to-do list. This helps you get a little extra movement in each and every day, which boosts NEAT. These tasks can boost overall muscle tone and strength while preventing injury as they utilize small muscle movements that many exercises neglect. Acknowledging the health benefits of these otherwise dull, monotonous tasks also helps motivate to keep up with the to-do list.
Sitting or standing still is overrated. The less time you spend not moving, the less NEAT contribution you get. Click your pen at your desk, tap your foot while you read emails, get up from your seat often for no reason, pace the room while on a phone call, etc. If pen-clicking seems too annoying, try adding meaningful movements to normal tasks. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic found these endless tiny movements throughout an 8-hour workday can add up to the calorie burn of a normal gym session. For example, the next time you are at the microwave reheating your coffee or standing in front of the copy machine, do a series of stretches, squats, jumping jacks or lunges instead of patiently waiting.
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