Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) is a component of your metabolism that accounts for all the low grade activities that we do on a day to day basis such as walking, going from sitting to standing, fidgeting, dancing or getting ready for work or walking in the grocery store.
Essentially NEAT is the amount of calories we burn when we’re doing our normal day to day activities while not trying to exercise or raise our heart rate.
Non exercise activity thermogenesis is not a stagnant number and you can actually make changes to it with conscious effort, but this doesn't always equate to fat loss.
The interesting this about NEAT is that it actually accounts for a much higher calorie burn than people would consider. Some studies have shown people burning upwards of 1,000 to 2,000 extra calories through NEAT which is very significant when it comes to trying to lose body fat.
Now I hear what you’re thinking “wait I just have to move more throughout the day and I’ll be able to lose the weight I’ve been dreaming of ?
No because there are some specific factors we’re going to be discussing this week that impact the amount of calories you burn through NEAT, and can either increase or decrease your daily calorie burn due to these factors.
Biological Factors that impact NEAT:
The interesting thing is that the difference here has less to do with the biology of you being a woman or man but instead has a lot more to do with environmental cues that impact gender roles and occupations which influence the level of NEAT you get throughout the day.
In the United States men and women both have similar levels of activity, but something that can dramatically impact this is the career that they choose. In Canada, Australia and England men tend to be more active throughout the day than men.
In children boys tend to be more active than girls, and there are some ways that gender roles and stereotypes may cause subtle differences in NEAT throughout the day.
An interesting trend is that these days more women are in the work full time and are the primary parent raising children which adds to the amount of daily activity they are getting and increases their NEAT.
Because NEAT and caloric intake are correlated one important note is that is James Levine’s overfeeding and NEAT study the four worst responders who gained the most weight were all women.
These women were the least responsive to the extra calories, and their levels of NEAT remained the exact same except for one woman who actually moved around less with the overfeeding.
This likely doesn’t come as a huge surprise, but as someone ages and gets older many of their hobbies and activities become more sedentary and less active.
In studies it’s been shown that the older participants took a similar amount of walks per day as the younger participants, but the older participants walked a much shorter distance compared to the younger participants.
3.) Metabolic Health & Calorie Intake:
When someone has been dieting for a long period of time to lose body fat, and consuming low calories with no diet breaks or refeeds the body compensate for the reduced availability of energy.
The body will slow down many basic physiological functions in an attempt to save energy (calories) because it’s a rare resource these days.
When the body slows these processes and forces the body to expend fewer calories this is known as adaptive thermogenesis.
In studies it’s been shown that when someone is in a long term caloric deficit the results are typically adaptive thermogenesis and a drop in NEAT levels as a way to conserve energy.
The suppressed levels of NEAT may continue for certain individuals even after they have returned to normal eating which can make gaining fat after ending a diet very easy once someone returns to a more normal eating pattern.
Therefore someone who yo yo dieted for years and punished themselves with excessive cardio and extremely low calorie diets could have a very low level of neat because of the adaptations their body has made to conserve energy.
Environmental Factors That Impact NEAT:
Most jobs that people have require them to sit in seat for eight hours a day and rarely encourage movement throughout the day.
Just look at the amount of people that sit at their desk and eat lunch while trying to catch up on their work. When we compare two similar people using the graph above from this study we can see someone who’s working in a mainly seated position has an occupational NEAT that’s pretty low and maxes out at around 700 calories.
On the other hand someone who is comparable in age, gender and weight who works in standing position can double the amount of calories they expend at work and burn around 1,400 calories at work.
Those who work more strenuous manual labor or agricultural jobs will expend upwards of 2,000 calories a day during their job, and showing that those who have more labor intensive jobs can burn 1,500 calories more per day than someone who works a sedentary job.
2.) Where We Live:
Our society has dramatically shifted from more agricultural to industrialized societies and while that change has brought about many positive changes it has also made us much more sedentary as a society.
Essentially our modern society is a sedentary promoting environment, and these cues are extremely prevalent when you examine the convenience services that are in high demand.
Look no further than drive through restaurants, banks and coffee shops. We have escalators, motorized walkways, suburbs without sidewalks and playgrounds being cut back on at grade schools.
Aside from the factors listed above there are a number of other factors that impact the amount of NEAT activity you’ll get like the safety of your neighborhood and how well lit the streets are which help people to feel safer walking around.
Very rarely anymore do we need to go far or work for what we want and need which has ups and downs. One of the largest downs is that it has helped to create an extremely sedentary lifestyle for us living in the industrialized society.
Aside from sleep and work your hobbies likely take a up a lot of your free time and depending on the hobbies you choose this can help or hurt your NEAT levels.
As an example if someone has more outdoor based hobbies like going for hikes, playing basketball or frisbee golf or going for a walk and listening to a podcast or audiobook. All these hobbies involve standing, walking or running and last for longer periods of time.
Now compare that with someone who’s hobbies are playing video games, reading blogs on their laptop or watching movies. Keep in mind what we learned from Part 1 of this blog series that too much sitting is something that dramatically decreases the amount of calories we expend through NEAT.
As you can see there is a ton of different factors that can dramatically impact your NEAT levels, but also can increase or decrease the amount of calories you burn through those NEAT activities as well.
In Part 3 of this series we’re going to look at the ways you can start incorporating more NEAT movement into your daily life and help with fat loss. Appreciate you all taking the time to read!