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Exercise without Exercising: Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis

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N.E.A.T for the win.

What if I told you, you could lose fat without changing your diet or exercise program.

You’d probably be interested.

Going further, what if I said this was how you could lose fat and never gain it back.

Now it might sound too good to be true.

I won’t pretend that it’s a magic pill.

It does require work just not exercise

But doing this, you can simultaneously get chores done, roll through audiobooks (like Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, which I highly recommend) and podcasts…

While also losing fat, and improving your health.

No, I’m not talking about a magical pill or potion.

I’m talking about non-exercise activity thermogenesis, NEAT. since you know we love acronyms

The Premise of Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis

NEAT refers to all of your energy expenditure excluding what you burn while exercising, sleeping, and digesting food.

Basically, it’s all of our everyday movement.

Walking to the car.

Fidgeting.

Mowing the lawn.

Cleaning the house.

Doing the dishes.

It’s all… NEAT.

Which is the perfect acronym, because these actions make things… neat.

Mowing the lawn makes your lawn neat.

Washing the dishes makes your kitchen neat.

Cleaning the house makes the house neat.

All while you burn more calories.

And lose more weight.

non-exercise activity thermogenesis

The Power of Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis 

Our everyday motion and movement (our NEAT) account for a huge proportion of our caloric expenditure.

For active individuals, it accounts for more than 50% of total caloric expenditure, and even 15% for sedentary people (1), which adds up to a variance of around 2,000 calories.

The Citi-biker to work will burn more calories through NEAT than the subway-rider, naturally.

Vacuuming burns around 120 extra calories per hour for a 150lb person (2). It’s similar for washing the car, slightly lower for doing the dishes, and higher for walking and light biking (like Citi-biking on your commute).

Compare that to the average hour on a stationary bike or treadmill which is around 400 calories (obviously it varies based on the speed and the person).

So, without exercising, you’re getting a significant amount of a calorie burn. 

All these activities add up to significant body composition changes.

One study found that higher NEAT correlated with lower insulin levels (better insulin sensitivity), smaller waist circumference, and higher HDL (good cholesterol) (3).

People who do more non-exercise activity thermogenesis tend to be leaner and healthier. 

Another study looked in particular at NEAT’s impact when you eat too much.

When participants overate 1,000 calories above normal, NEAT had a strong (77%) correlation with their ability to maintain their leanness (4).

Changes in Metabolism

As you exercise more and eat less, your metabolism will decrease. Now, there are many dieting strategies to prevent this, and John and written about many of them, like cheat days.

However, NEAT won’t impact your metabolism the same way extreme dieting and hours of cardio will. So, simply increasing NEAT could be a more sustainable method for fat loss, although I’d like to see more research and experiments done. 

How to Increase Your NEAT: First, Track It

Making changes without tracking those changes may be helpful, but by tracking data, you can qualify how much NEAT you’re doing based on how many calories you burn in a given time frame. 

By keeping this in line with your weight progress and caloric intake, you can see for yourself how much your activity impacts you.

However, fitness trackers like Fitbits and Apple Watches, while great, can cost hundreds of dollars.

But, you can get a fitness tracker for just $14.95, that’s the same quality as a Fitbit. This steal is only possible because they were recently donated by heart health supporters.

Grab your fitness tracker for less than $15.

heart strong fitness tracker

 

N.E.A.T Methods

There is no shortage of ways to increase your NEAT.

Literally anything that involves moving, but that isn’t as vigorous as exercise, is NEAT.

Your Commute

Depending on where you live, you may have a lot of options on how to get to work. For example, last year, I lived on 10th st and 5th ave in Manhattan, and John lived up in Hudson Yards (a neighborhood in Manhattan, for the unacquainted), on 38th and 10th. It took about 20 minutes to subway or 20 minutes to Citi Bike, so I opted for the Citi Bike.

If you can bike or walk instead of taking the bus or train, then switch up your commute so you’re taking advantage of NEAT.

Obviously, living in a city has numerous advantages, and being active throughout the day is one of them. In fact, I’d go as far to say that moving to a city is one the best things you can do to lose fat, because it’s way more convenient to walk and bike places than to get in a car.

In fact, there’s been research from the fields of transportation and urbanization fields showing that the people who live in dense cities where very few people drive—like New York or Venice, Italy—have lower rates of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, and high blood pressure (5, 6).

I’m not here to make the case for cities. At the onset of the pandemic, cities were hurt much worse than suburbs and rural areas, so there are other health risks. And when other infectious diseases come, it stands to reason they’ll hit the urban metropolises before anywhere else.

But if you’re thinking of moving to a city in any case, consider the health benefits of constantly moving around.

Plus if you come to New York, you can come hang out with John and me, and we’re pretty awesome. So there’s also that.

House Chores

Now that you know doing the dishes and cleaning the house can help you burn fat, you should have more incentive to help out around the house. If you live with a spouse or roommates, this will also have the benefit of making everyone you live with happy.

And, if you live alone, you’ll keep your personal space clean.

Either way, that’s a win-win for everybody involved.

So, start making it a habit to wash the dishes, vacuums the rugs, and make the bed.

Adjusting Posture – Short Breaks

When you’re actively controlling your posture — keeping your shoulders back and spine neutral — you’re expending energy. So, check up on your posture regularly. 

Similarly, anytime you’re working and you feel like you’re in a funk, stand up, go for a water break or a quick lap or a little walk nearby.

NEAT Hobbies

Add a hobby that requires moving around. Or think of active hobbies you already enjoy and do more of them.

It could be fishing, or painting, or playing an instrument. Personally, I love concerts. All of these activities are stuffed with NEAT.

Final Thoughts

Human beings are designed to be in motion all day long. That might seem crazy, but as many workers who are on their feet (like trainers) can tell you, you do get used to it, and some even learn to love and embrace the constant motion.

Movement is a foundation of, not only a good physique but of a healthy lifestyle. By incorporating more opportunities for movement into your life, you’ll likely feel better, on top of looking better.

Plus, you can do a lot less monotonous cardio. Kan Jam and beer die are just way more fun.

About the Author

David is a writer and strength coach and co-owner of Roman Fitness Systems. In addition to helping run RFS, he's also the head editor for prohockeystrength.com, the official website of the Strength and Conditioning Association of Professional Hockey.

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