How To Increase Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)
“To my generation, technology is second nature, while yours fumbles through it. Makes you kinda jealous, eh?
These were the words a Cartoon character, Curtis told his dad in one of the episodes.
In return Curtis’ dad brought out his yo-yo and performed some amazing tricks on it. Curtis retorted by telling his dad that the tricks he performed on his yo-yo a short while earlier were “child’s play”.
Curtis’ dad then handed the yo-yo to Curtis to see if he could replicate the yo-yo tricks seeing as he felt they were easy peasy.
Curtis began playing with the yo-yo but got increasingly frustrated. He could neither duplicate none of the tricks his father pulled off earlier nor get the yo-yo to swing up and down harmoniously.
Curtis’ father got some satisfaction from watching his son’s frustration and lack of patience.
It’s obvious there are generational differences. What one generation might be very sleek at, another may find it challenging.
Obesity generational differences
In historical terms, obesity as a phenomenon has undergone such generational transformation. Obesity has become increasingly worse in this generation than it was generations earlier.
Just have a look at those black and white photographs from the 19th and the first half of the 20th century. You will notice something stark. You may have missed it. But I should remind you to pay attention next time you look at those black and white photographs.
What you will find is that; our great great gandparents were noticeably thinner compared to images on photographs today. Obesity rates were in the region of 2% in the time period I’m talking about.
What is the explanation for the obesity generational differences?
I believe the difference lies in what is now being described as NEAT.
What does NEAT energy expenditure mean?
NEAT refers to Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. Long name, I know.
But its meaning can transform the way you look at obesity and it’s associated problems.
Losing fat doesn’t have to mean doing a lot outside of your routine physical activities.
Still wondering what Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis actually means?
Well, it’s any physical activity that you do in your everyday existence that is not deemed as voluntary workout.
So, as I type this article now, I am engaging in a NEAT energy expenditure. So is cooking, gardening, mowing the lawn, picking up the remote control, cleaning the house, vacuum cleaning the floor…
…mopping your kitchen floor, driving, walking around the mall shopping, climbing the stairs in your house or the office, talking to your boss, husband, wife, kids, scratching your head, running after the toddler, scrubbing your feet…you get the drift.
Any movement that you make that is outside of a regular work out is deemed as NEAT (non exercise activity thermogenesis).
Why is NEAT important?
These activities may look insignificant or minor at first glance, but they all add up over the course of the day and it is the cumulative effect of all of these activities that constitute Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.
And the Thermogenesis refers to the calories we burn by virtue of these activities.
James A. Levine, MD, PhD, of the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, Metabolism, and Nutrition at Mayo Clinic Rochester, has been studying the concept of NEAT.
James is of the view that NEAT or the lack of it; is a huge contributor to the obesity epidemic in the US and does not think the blame lies squarely on the doorsteps of increased calorie intake only.
Dr Levine explains:
“Exercise is defined as ‘bodily exertion for the sake of developing and maintaining physical fitness,’ for example, participating in a sport or visiting the gym. The vast majority of the world’s population do not participate in exercise, as so defined, and for them, exercise activity thermogenesis is zero.
Even for the minority of people who do exercise, for most of them, exercise accounts for an energy expenditure of 100 calories per day. Thus, NEAT explains why an active person can expend 2,000 calories per day more than an inactive person of the same size.
NEAT is the energy expenditure of all physical activities other than volitional sport-ing-like exercise. NEAT includes all those activities that render us vibrant, unique, and independent beings.”
How do you burn calories everyday?
Perhaps this will be a good time to talk about how we burn calories daily as we lead our lives.
Energy expenditure (how we burn calories) is accounted for by 3 mechanisms:
- Basal metabolic rate – 60%
- Thermic effect of food – 10%
- Activity Thermogenesis – 30%
Now let’s talk about all of the 3 ways we burn calories everyday.
Basal metabolic rate
What is basal metabolic rate?
Basal metabolic rate is energy spent by basically being alive. If you are wondering how you burn calories doing absolutely nothing, well this how.
Your basal metabolic rate accounts for how you burn calories when we are sleeping. Yes, even we are asleep doing nothing at all, the metabolic processes going on in your body do use up energy to keep you alive.
When you are awake and doing nothing, you still burn calories through activities breathing, blinking your eyelids, talking, your heart beating etc. Involuntary activities that have to happen to keep us alive like your breating and heart beating use up energy whether we like it or not.
Energy expenditure from these involuntary activities and bodily functions constitute basal metabolic rate.
Thermic effect of food
Thermic effect of food is the energy used up by the process of food consumption to energy conversion i.e eating, digestion and food metabolism. It is a small fraction of energy expenditure and equates to only about 10%.
Activity thermogenesis makes up the rest of the energy expenditure. Activity thermogenesis constitutes 30% of the calories we burn everyday.
Activity thermogenesis is split up in 2 – Exercise and Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.
Exercise activity thermogenesis is energy expenditure that occurs from voluntary aerobic and non-aerobic exercise undertaken by an individual.
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) which is what we are discussing right here.
Non-Exercise Activity thermogenesis can be sub-divided into Occupational activity thermogenesis and Leisure activity thermogenesis.
Occupational activity thermogenesis (Occupational NEAT) is made up of all exercise activity related to what you do for a living. Exercise activity related to your job.
A post-man will have a higher occupational activity thermogenesis than an office worker who sits in front of a computer all day.
Same goes for someone who does agricultural work. Working in the fields ploughing, planting, harvesting will burn a lot more calories compared to the bank counter clerk.
Table below adapted from this study and published by the Mayo Clinic gives some idea of how NEAT from occupational activity may differ significantly between types of jobs.
Occupational Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)
|Occupation Type||NEAT Calories/day|
|Seated work (no option of moving)||700|
|Seated work (discretion and requirement to move)||1,000|
|Standing work (eg, homemaker, cashier)||1,400|
|Strenuous work (eg, farming)||2,300|
Leisure activity thermogenesis (Leisure NEAT) is the energy you burn doing regular stuff in and around the house.
Without being offensive (people get offended easily these days, don’t they), I would hazard a guess that women will have a higher leisure activity thermogenesis than men in and around the house. Of course this wouldn’t be true across the board, I should add.
James Levine from his research believes that NEAT may vary as much as 2000 Calories per day between individuals. Lots of short little movements is what constitutes your NEAT (non exeercise activity thermogenesis).
Overweight people tend to have low NEAT and their slimmer cousins tend to have high NEAT (within reason).
Our great great grandparents definitely had very high NEAT(non exercise activity thermogenesis) compared to our current level of NEAT today.
Obesity is not a problem confined to the West as most people think. The nations of the Eastern hemisphere are having their own little battle of obesity.
Obesity is a burgeoning problem of even smaller nations in the pacific.
China is having its own little crisis with obesity and an alarming increase in the rate of heart disease compared to the earlier periods of the 20th century.
Urbanisation and industrialisation are huge contributory factors. Availability of foods rich in processed foods complicated by a wave of sedentary lifestyle, both in the workplace and at home.
I talked about generational differences earlier on in this article. I strongly believe this is a factor in the obesity epidemic the world over.
We have become too sedentary in our lifestyles. Gone are the days when walking, for instance, was actually a necessity because there weren’t many cars as we have today.
Obesity is a serious problem in America. But the rates of obesity is proportionately worse amongst American Indians such that obesity prevention programs are now being targeted at children to save their future. Nice strategy!
“Over 80% of American Indian and Alaska Native adults are overweight or obese; about half of American Indian children are at an unhealthy weight; and it’s estimated 30% of American Indians and Alaska Natives have pre-diabetes. Compare those statistics to American adults in general, two-thirds of whom are overweight or obese, and 27% of whom are estimated to have pre-diabetes”
This is the same American Indians who had an obesity rate that was less than 2% when they were doing their thing before colonisation took place.
The typical American Indian before colonisation had a very high NEAT.
They farmed. They hunted. They made tools. They cooked. They made their own shelters. They even participated in warfare (not encouraged by this article).
The American Indians developed their own sports, the Native American Stickball, apparently not too dissimilar to Lacrosse. They were ingenious enough to use their developed games to settle scores between communities as a substitute to going to war.
Their agricultural practices were very basic. Totally unmechanised farming that required physical labour. The American Indian woman grew her own food whilst the men went hunting and fishing.
When it was time for harvest, they knew they will get abundance of berries, roots, fruits, mushrooms, nuts, and eggs.
They ate when food was available and did without when there was scarcity.
But in all of these, you will notice a consistent trend – a very high NEAT.
Having a high NEAT helps you keep energy balance negative. Weight increase is more likely when energy balance is in the positive realm.
What we can learn from the Amish Community.
The Old Order Amish community. The Amish shun modern conveniences. They probably see them as “evil”. Just like the American Indians used to do. Their farming methods remain labour-intensive.
The result – obesity rates amongst the Amish is still 4%. Even the Amish who have the obesity gene have managed to override it by just having a very high NEAT in their daily routines.
This study of the Old Order Amish showed Amish men complete an average of 18,425 steps a day and walked an average of 12-hour week whilst the women put in a shift of 14,196 daily steps with an average walking of 5.7 hours.
The average person in the Western hemisphere struggles to get in 4000 steps a day. Something surprising in that study is the Amish diet is not strictly healthy.
The Amish diet was neither low fat nor low carb.
More succinctly, the study stated “The Amish diet is typical of the pre-World War II rural diet. It includes meat, potatoes, gravy, eggs, vegetables, bread, pies, cakes, and is quite high in fat and refined sugar”
The men in the cohort had an obesity rate of 0%.
The Amish seem to be overriding their dietary indiscretions by ramping up their NEAT (non exercise activity thermogenesis) and it is working. They have obesity rate that puts the rest of the developed world to shame.
The conclusion from the study being that the high NEAT levels is the reason the Amish community have a low rate of obesity.
There is no doubt that communities with high NEAT routines do better in terms of obesity and its related complications like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, strokes and cancer.
With this knowledge to hand, you have no excuse now not to improve what I would describe as your NEAT ratings.
Simply increasing your NEAT (non exercise activity thermogenesis) routines will do a lot for your waistline. All of it could stem from Leisure non exercise activity thermogenesis (leisure NEAT) routines as well as Occupational non exercise activity thermogenesis (Occupational NEAT) routines.
Of course, if you add some formal workout to your NEAT (non exercise activity thermogenesis) routines, then you will ramp up the negativity of your energy balance.
Remember, this is all about increasing your energy expenditure thereby tilting your energy balance into a calorie deficit daily. Doing that on a daily basis is a surefire way of burning fat…
…even if you do not undertake formal exercise work out.
Holding that thought, what can you do to increase your NEAT?
How to increase non exercise activity thermogenesis
Increasing non exercise activity thermogenesis is not rocket science. All you need is a little imagination and creativity.
The non exercise activity thermogenesis examples below will give you some ideas about how to increase or boost your NEAT (non exercise activity thermogenesis) without trying too hard or embarking on a diet.
- Doing your gardening a lot more vigorously.
- Become keen to undertake doing the household chores – washing, ironing, vacuum cleaning, mopping the floor, cleaning the bathrooms. You don’t need a paid domestic cleaner!
- Get a lightweight kettlebell or dumb bell like a 3-lb one and do a low-level no-sweat workout whilst watching TV.
- Use the stairs at work. The higher the floor your office is, the more you will get from this non exercise activity thermogenesis example.
- Have walking meetings instead of boardroom-style meetings.
- Wash the car yourself manually instead of using the automatic car wash.
- Walk to post your letters instead of driving there.
- Walk to do light shopping where all your shopping will fit into one bag instead of driving.
- Walk to work if your office is within 5-mile radius to your residence. Doing this will give you a return mileage of 10 miles every working day. How cool is that.
- Walk to the hair salon for your hair cut or hair grooming and back.
- If you use public transport to work, how about coming off at least a mile or two before your usual bus stop. Do the same on your way back home. Come off the bus early.
- Use the rake to gather leaves in the garden in autumn instead of using the leaf blower.
- Install tools on your PC or Mac like exertime which forces you to exit your computer after pre-set intervals and do some physical activity which must be logged before you can resume your previous task.
- Have an office re-design with treadmill desks where the tasks undertaken allows for this. It doesn’t have to be on every desk. Workers can elect to use those treadmill desks in turns, but they are there for everyone to use when they so please.
When you consider the fact that NEAT (non exercise activity thermogenesis) routines are activities that you do in between workouts which could be days apart, revving them up supplements whatever else you are doing to maintain your weight.
This is not about dieting. This is about doing little non-formal exercise things better. Amplifying your NEAT may not sound like much, but cumulatively it adds up and complements any fat burning measures you already have on the map.
All it takes is a little imagination and motivation to keep going and doing more.
If you ramp up your NEAT (non exercise activity thermogenesis), maybe you never have to worry too much about what you eat any longer…just like the Amish.
Suggested further reading:
1 Obscure Trick To Make ANY Exercise Program More Effective