What is NEAT?
NEAT stands for Non-Exercising Activity Thermogenesis and is essentially all the energy we burn doing activities that aren’t sleeping, eating or exercise. These include things such as cleaning the house, fidgeting, walking upstairs, changing posture, standing etc. It’s pretty clear that NEAT accounts for majority of our daily tasks, so it represents a very important factor that we can modify to assist with weight loss, increasing energy expenditure and overall staying active.
Our total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) consists of three main components:
- Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): the energy we burn during complete rest i.e. sleep = approximately 60%
- Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) : Increased energy expenditure during food digestion, absorption and storage = 5-15%
- Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (EAT) & Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT): These include the exercise that we do each day and the non-exercise activities that we perform during daily activities. NEAT can account for anywhere between 15-35% of TDEE depending on your daily activity.
While it may seem that NEAT activities are ‘easy’ activities as they are generally performed at a low intensity, they are also usually maintained for long periods of time and make up most of our day, therefore have the potential to result in significant energy expenditure.
Factors that affect NEAT include:
- Urban environment (e.g. escalators & drive-through’s)
- Genetics (which may account for anywhere from 29-62% of NEAT)
- Age (activity generally shows a pattern of decline with age)
- Gender (in Australia, men report being 1.5-3x more active than women)
While many of these factors we can’t change, there are many factors that we can change. Fidgeting alone has been found to increase energy expenditure 20-40% above resting levels. Going for a stroll through a shopping centre may double energy expenditure, while walking purposefully may even triple it.
Increasing your NEAT levels doesn’t require a big commitment and is something we can all do to assist in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. The daily energy spent by NEAT in relatively active individuals is often greater than what is induced by EAT. This means that while we should all be aiming to partake in some form of regular and organised strengthening and aerobic activity, it is what we do outside of these sessions that has the greatest impact on the amount of energy we burn overall.
Furthermore, the exercise sessions that we do cannot alone counteract the negative effects of being sedentary. We need to also be increasing our NEAT levels and decreasing our sitting time to decrease risk of diseases such as metabolic syndrome, weight gain, poor glucose management and type 2 diabetes risk.
So what is a practical way that we can increase our levels of NEAT?:
- Skip the escalator and take the stairs/ramp
- Stand while you work instead of sitting, or alternate between the two
- Shop in store if you can, rather than ordering online
- Fidget while you sit!
- Tidy more often- not only does this increase your activity, it also means you won’t be letting all of the small tasks pile into a large cleaning job!
- Get on your feet- be mindful about this one, if there is a task that you are doing that could be completed while standing then do so!
An active lifestyle is so much more than regular exercise sessions. It also involves being active in your daily tasks wherever you can. Remember, move more & sit less.
3rd year Clinical Exercise Physiology (Honours) student
James A. Levine, M.D., Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (Neat), Nutrition Reviews, Volume 62, Issue suppl_2, July 2004, Pages S82–S97
Chung, N., Park, M. Y., Kim, J., Park, H. Y., Hwang, H., Lee, C. H., … & Lim, K. (2018). Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT): a component of total daily energy expenditure. Journal of exercise nutrition & biochemistry, 22(2), 23.
von Loeffelholz, C., & Birkenfeld, A. (2018). The role of non-exercise activity thermogenesis in human obesity