The Secret to Effective Weight Loss with NEAT

The Secret to Effective Weight Loss with NEAT

Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis or NEAT

We are continuing to focus on effective methods for losing weight, and for getting the body to burn off excess fat stores. The recent post on energy usage and thermogenics set the stage for a program to get us into shape without using foolish or dangerous approaches.

People often ask, how do I lose more weight besides dieting?

The answer is obviously physical activity (i.e. energy usage), but that can be broken down into two groups: exercise activity thermogenesis, and non-exercise activity thermogenesis. Thermogenesis is the process of heat production, and thus energy usage in the body. Besides exercise, eating/digesting, and sleeping, our day is filled with ordinary activities -- what we are calling non-exercise activities, like moving about the house, or fidgeting in a chair, or washing dishes, etc, that all require energy. Even the most basic action burns calories. Just lying down burns 2 calories per hour! NEAT is the entirety of these ordinary activities that your body performs each day. They are distinct from exercise and for the most part, unconscious.

Base metabolic rate accounts for about 60% of our daily energy usage, the thermic effect of food represents about 10% of energy usage, and the remaining 30% comes from physical activity, or activity thermogenesis. Most of us would imagine that exercise would take up the majority of this energy usage but in fact NEAT accounts for most of that remaining 30%.

Often ignored as part of a weight loss program, this can be a very important area for achieving ideal body size and fat balance. With a little bit of discipline and some creativity, we can burn an extra 10% or 20% our energy stores without adding anything extra to our workload.

A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggested that making small adjustments to these non-exercise activities could be more important and valuable than a daily trip to the gym. Another study showed that slim people walked for an additional 2 hours a day more than overweight people. The caloric usage in these studies of healthy participants was as much as 200 calories per day more than obese participants.

What this essentially means is that concentrating on your physical exertions while doing mundane tasks can be a path to successful weight and fat loss.

For example, let's say you are lying on the couch typing an email. You could burn 25% more calories by sitting upright and typing, or even more by standing. NEAT can be maximized so that with very little added effort, you can significantly increase your daily energy usage, making it a very important and powerful weight loss method.

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NEAT is essentially grouped as either occupational or leisure NEAT. The goal for our weight management program is to find ways to maximize both these areas, making small changes to add to the energy usage already required by default. To start, we need to change the way we think about daily activities. This is a form of being in the moment because we are going to be mindful when we do everything. After a while, this will all become second nature and won't require so much concentration, but to start with, pay attention to how you do things.

I am going to get you started with some ideas, but really this is just a kick start. You will come up with your own methods. The goal is to make this a way of life. The underlying devotion in all this is to motion. Move more on smaller levels too! Be more active in all things you do. Be more vital in living your life. The benefits are well worth it.

First off, get a pedometer or one of the many phone apps that measure your movement. Having a way to quantify it is an excellent source of motivation and helps recognize goal achievements. This will be how you numerically see the improvements from day to day.

Learn to love movement as a core value.

love movementAlways look for ways to increase the distances you travel. If you are going up to your office, take the stairs. If you are going to the market, park further away so you have to walk more. I have developed this habit where I leave things I use regularly like my phone, or my keys, deliberately at the other end of my house so I have to walk to get them each time. It might sound a bit mental, but after a while you just see the value.

The possibilities are endless.  I have a friend who has developed a habit of walking five steps forward and then two steps back everywhere he goes. It reminds me of the pink panther walk from the 60's cartoons, but he laughs and says it adds 40% to his distance walked every day so he doesn't care who snickers at him. He's actually gotten very creative about how he embraces motion -- nothing wrong with some style.

Now this next one might sound a bit odd too, but get twitchy. Not nervous twitchy, but movey twitchy. Walk around when you are on the phone, or twiddle your fingers and toes while watching TV, or dance while you vacuum, or stand up while you play video games. My grandmother puts a book on her knees and lifts them up and down while watching TV (many exercises to keep the elderly active are actually good for all ages.) My aforementioned quirky friend, who has embraced this entire idea wholeheartedly, does a sort of river dance thing with his feet whenever sitting in a chair. It's hilarious to watch, and I love how it always makes him smile mischievously, but he is again quick to point out that it helps him enjoy the whole NEAT process, which ultimately keeps him at it, and so far he has shed some 45 pounds. (He's a pretty simple man, so I lovingly tell him the whole thing gives him some otherwise needed character:)

It's a lifestyle, and while it is ultimately practical, there's no reason not to make it a joyful addition.  Anything you enjoy, you will stick with more easily. Come up with your own versions.

Make being active with NEAT a fun part of everyday life.

Another method is to set up a schedule of movement commitments. Train yourself to just get up more. A BMJ Open study showed that those who stand more than three hours a day live around three years longer than those who sit more. There are clear links between sedentary lifestyle and higher rates of diabetes, cancer, heart disease and obesity.

If you are at work, keep a schedule of stretches in your daily calendar. See them like required meetings where you stop what you are doing and for a few minutes you walk around and stretch out. Each one of these little choices adds a considerable overall energy usage when you add them all up. If you are at home lounging, get up every hour, or during commercial breaks. I have a small barbell that I keep with me and every spare moment I do a few reps. I am not trying to become Mr Olympia, just to be mindfully active at all times. I once heard this called positive habituation.

exercise ballAnytime you are stuck doing something typically stationery, like waiting in line, or for your train, or sitting at your desk, etc, incorporate activity. It doesn't matter what you do. Stand on one leg, or rock from side to side, or play footsie with yourself. Keep a rubber ball with you to squeeze. If you are traveling on the train, stand instead of sitting. You will be surprised at how many extra calories you use just by standing. Plus, of course there is the bonus that people will think you thoughtful! :)

A physio-therapist I know recommends that people use stability balls because it requires muscular activity for balance that naturally burns a lot of calories. Put one in your living room and sit on it while watching TV or playing games. It may be a bit unwieldy at first, but the small adjustments and movements from sitting on the ball will have amazing benefits to metabolism and muscle tone.

So I could go on and on, but I am sure you get the idea by now. Positive habituation. It might start off as a bit of a challenge, but believe me the rewards are worth the effort. Put this together with your exercise regimen and your diet regimen and you have a recipe for weight control success. You might also try adding a high-quality thermogenic supplement to your regimen to further increase your energy usage in all activities. The point is to do everything you can on a regular basis to maximize your caloric usage. It will take some discipline and mindfulness in the beginning, but that is nothing but a good thing. And don't forget to let us know what you come up by commenting below.

Related Posts: 
More Ways Being Active Can Save Your Life
Cooking Up Healthy Weight Loss with Fat Burning Foods
Calorie Restriction is a Gulp from the Fountain of Youth 
Counting Calories as Part of Your Weight Loss Program is Pointless
Why Understanding Energy Usage is Crucial to Weight Loss
Easier Weight Loss - Tips for Losing Weight Without Struggling

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The opinions expressed in this article are of the author. Content and other information presented on the site are not meant to be medical advice or any substitute for professional advice, counseling, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard professional medical or mental health advice from your physician or other qualified health provider.


    • Avatar
      Yvonne DiCaro
      Nov 24, 2014

      I never thought about weight loss this way before. No one ever talks about these alternatives. Very useful information which I have been employing since I read it. I have changed my mind-set to embrace little movements all day long, and I am already feeling it in my muscles. The only problem is my mom keeps telling me to stop fidgeting. :) I will keep at it and let you know how it goes. Thanks a lot.

    • Avatar
      Dec 11, 2014

      Very useful, thanks.

    • Avatar
      Jan 18, 2015

      Such a simple approach for losing extra weight, and yet so un-talked about. Thanks for an excellent post. I am already moving!

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