Something that’s been critical to losing weight for me is Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT), a term coined by researcher Dr. James Levine. He works at the Mayo Clinic doing inactivity studies, where he famously discovered among other things that sedentary people gain more weight than people who perform a lot of simple movements throughout the day like walking and fidgeting.
In one study he found that obese people made just 1,500 NEAT movements a day, vs up to 5,000 for someone in a physically active job like farming. Again, that’s not exercise, that’s daily movements like tying your shoes or getting a glass of water.
A huge benefit of NEAT activities is that they quickly add up. This was demonstrated by one study participant who burned over 600 calories a day with non-exercise movement. For someone my size, that’s more calories than I’d expend doing an aerobic exercise for an hour.
Everything counts toward NEAT: Walking to the bathroom. Doing the dishes. Tapping your fingers. Since none of these movements takes a lot of effort, it’s easy to add in more of them throughout the day. I’ve been focusing on adding NEAT movements to my daily routine with tremendous success. I’d estimate I burn 200-300 extra calories a day than I used to, and I hardly notice that I’m doing it.
Here are 5 easy, daily examples of how I added NEAT activities:
- Pacing. I now pace everywhere: on the phone, waiting on the subway platform, even riding in an elevator (when I’m alone!).
- Simple chores. Even though we have a great dishwasher, I often wash less annoying things by hand. It not only adds NEAT movement, it keeps the sink clear of dirty dishes.
- Grooving out. I sit in Starbucks a lot working on Weighthacker (like right now, typing this), so I make a habit of tapping my feet to the music they play constantly. Not enough to annoy anyone around me or look like a crazy person, but enough so I’m moving.
- Taking the long(er) way. I take a longer path everywhere I go, whether it’s walking to the post office, getting out one subway stop earlier than my destination or just getting up for a drink of water at work. Even if it’s just 5 extra steps.
- Cooking. I cook more often, which means I’m chopping vegetables, moving pots and pans around and standing more. A side “benefit” is that I like to do the dishes as I cook, so I’m getting more NEATs in there.
Ater consciously adding NEAT movements to my life, I noticed they also started happening on their own all the time. I’ll find myself in line at the grocery store unconsciously shifting my weight from one foot to the other, or grabbing a hand basket instead of cart to carry my groceries. NEAT has turned me into the living embodiment of Newton’s first law of movement: A body in motion tends to stay in motion. And it all makes me healthier.