ABCs of health letter N for NEAT. But not NEAT as in “oh that’s cool”, NEAT as in non-exercise activity thermogenesis.
Now this is just big way of saying a very simple concept. This is the energy your body uses outside of structured exercise. There’s a lot of talk about exercising, how we need to move our bodies and how we need to exercise more, and all of that, and all that is true and it’s important. Structured exercise has a very important role in our health in lots of aspects, not only from a strength perspective, but also from a conditioning perspective, for stretching and mobility, so there are many, many important reasons to have a structured exercise.
The difficulty is that we tend to overestimate what our body consumes, so we tend to think that we do an exercise, and we sweat a lot, and we’re breathless and we put in all of this energy and we think that we consume this massive amount of calories, but the truth is that the calories consumed inside structured exercise are less then we are led to believe and are less than we tend to expect. The biggest value in formal exercise is not how many calories you burn, the biggest value is for your health, it’s for your physical health, for strength, for stamina, for endurance, but the actual burning of calories, that’s a fraction of the number of calories that your body uses in an entire day, and that is where NEAT comes in.
NEAT is the amount of energy that your body consumes outside of exercise. There are two things to talk about with NEAT. One of them is that formal structured physical exercise allows you to do more NEAT things. What I mean by that is that the more fit you are, and this doesn’t have to do with amount of visible muscle, this doesn’t have to do with a dress size, having a structured exercise habit helps you with your day-to-day activities, and it gives the conditioning to do other things in your day, or makes your day to day tasks easier. A structured exercise program builds your muscles, endurance and energy to actually do things outside of that structured exercise.
The more fit you are, the more the better your body is equipped to do all these other things, to experience other things. For instance, if you travel on vacation, if you are more fit you are going to experience things differently, you’re going to have more stamina to walk around all day and do sightseeing, or maybe if there’s an interesting adventure, or a fun experience. The better your fitness level – again, not dress size or having a six pack or not – the more fit you are, the more energy you have and the more your body has the endurance to do certain things.
The other side of NEAT, non-exercise activity thermogenesis, is that increasing your NEAT accelerates your weight loss when you are in a weight loss journey. Why? Because to lose weight, to lose fat, you need to use more calories than you are consuming. The easiest way to do that isn’t to go from 30 minutes to one hour, or an hour and a half at the gym. No, keep up with your structured exercise, but increase how your body burns calories outside of structured exercise.
You’ve heard of this before… take the stairs instead of taking the elevator, park a little further away from the door, get up every hour from your desk and just pace around for a little bit, go for a walk and enjoy the sunshine, play outside with your kids, have a dance party in the kitchen. All of these things are ways to increase your body’s calorie consumption without having to increase your structured workout time. So whether you are trying to move your body more simply because you’re very sedentary and you just want to increase your body’s movement, or if you’re looking to increase how many calories you’re burning a day, NEAT is the way to go.
Don’t give up your daily exercise time, but find ways to increase what your body uses outside of that time.
Keeping it simple,