When it comes to weight loss or health goals, the stereotypical answer by health professionals is to exercise more and eat less. While this method can help create a calorie deficit (needed for weight loss), the methods used to reach this are not always sustainable or applicable to most lifestyles.
What if you shifted your focus to increasing your Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)? NEAT is all the involuntary movements you do throughout your day. Examples are twitching your legs while sitting, moving your hands when you talk, and any fidgeting you might do. NEAT includes voluntary movements like walking, cleaning the house, and grocery shopping.
NEAT is the second-best way we burn calories during the day, but not one that should be discarded. First is your BMR (basal metabolic rate). Your BMR is the number of calories it takes to “keep the lights on.” This includes breathing, circulation, digestion, and more. It’s all the processes in your body, whether you sit on the couch or go for a bike ride.
Here’s the shocking fact—we burn more calories a day with NEAT than we do with EA (exercise activity)! Therefore, increasing NEAT should be your top focus when it comes to movement and activity throughout your day. Building in more movement each day can be beneficial for many reasons, including:
- Helping to balance blood glucose levels
- Improving stamina
- Improving energy
- Improving mood
- Helping with weight loss goals
- Improving digestion
- Helping maintain muscle mass
- Helping maintain or increasing bone density
- Aiding in stress management
- Helping improve sleep
Below are examples of how you can easily start to increase your daily NEAT:
- Park in the furthest parking spot from the door at work or the store.
- Use the push door to enter a building versus the automatic sliding door.
- Wash dishes versus using the dishwasher.
- Go for several small walks throughout the day or a long one.
- Walk in between sets at the gym versus just sitting on the machine.
- Walk to the furthest bathroom from your office at work or home.
- Physically play with your kids.
- Join a recreational sports team.
- Walk the golf course.
- Vacuum or dust the house daily. Break rooms up by different weekdays to make cleaning less cumbersome and help increase your daily steps.
Finding simple ways to incorporate more activity and movement into your day will add up BIG in the long term. Being more active in your day-to-day will help you accomplish your current health goals, but more importantly, it will help you sustain them once you have achieved them.
Staying more active throughout the day and finding ways to incorporate more movements can be fun. You will soon find yourself craving to be more active and naturally getting more steps daily.
A great way to add accountability and motivation to increase or maintain a certain amount of daily NEAT, is wearing a trackable device. Trackable devices would include, but are not limited to:
- Apple Watch
- Fit Bit
- Oura Ring
- Whoop Band
- Garmin devices
- Polar devices
Wearing a trackable device can be eye-opening as to how much activity you get throughout the day. These devices are also great for helping you create, set, and reach physical, health, and wellbeing goals.
Things to keep in mind when working to increase your daily NEAT:
- Build small daily goals that are realistic and achievable.
- Be consistent.
- Be open to new ideas or try new things to increase movement.
- Have fun.
- Track your progress and reflect over time.
- Acknowledge your progress along the way, and celebrate the small victories.
Exercise is an important part of staying active and healthy. Focusing on your NEAT can help you build endurance, stamina, and strength. You will see these benefits carry over into your exercise performance and goals. If you do not currently have an exercise program, after a bit of time working to increase your NEAT, you may find yourself looking for more of a physical challenge because you feel so much better.
If you find yourself looking to build more exercise into your lifestyle, again, start small and smart. Find an activity or program that you would enjoy and that would add fun and socialization to your day.
If you are interested in starting a strength training program, I highly recommend hiring a trainer for a few sessions. A trainer can teach you proper form and mechanics with free weights and machines to prevent injury and get the most bang out of your time in the gym. Hiring a trainer will also help you overcome any fears or insecurities you may have about going to a gym.
Focus on finding a balance between NEAT and EA. Ideally, you would try to incorporate the following into your daily/weekly routine:
- Working to achieve 10k steps a day
- Walk daily, get outside in the fresh air
- 2-3 strength-training sessions a week
- Work on flexibility and mobility at least once a week
- Incorporate a cardio session once a week for cardiovascular health
If this list seems overwhelming, break it down into small bite-size chunks that are achievable for you and your lifestyle. Start with being consistent in achieving a daily walk. Then work to hit 10k steps a day. Then try an online yoga or stretching class you can do in the comfort of your home.
Again, the goal is to create a sustainable lifestyle. Do what works for you, but use this new knowledge to challenge yourself more than you did yesterday.
Set personal goals for your NEAT and EA weekly, and be consistent, not perfect. Consistency will ensure sustainability. Sustainability will turn into a healthy lifestyle and new habits. Enjoy movement and that you have a body capable of moving!