We have discussed a variety of topics thus far. Those discussing exercise are specific to going to a gym or performing some sort of sport-like activity. This means the person actually sets his or her mind to perform “exercise” for a certain period of time. But what about the rest of our days? Do the activities performed throughout our day have any bearing on our well-being? The short answer is yes. We will give a slightly longer answer.
N.E.A.T. is an acronym for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. So, now that you know that, just call it “NEAT.” It’s a lot easier to remember and to say. But, what the hell is it? Well, it’s the activities we do that are not when we are doing our “exercise.” Walking to places, walking between buildings at work, taking the stairs, dancing, etc. are all examples but not nearly the complete list! Think about when you were a kid. How often did you say, “I’m going to go for a jog” versus calling your friends and getting a pick-up game of basketball of football? While those are exercise and sport-like activities, they are a bit different than what we typically call “exercise.” As adults, we will literally say, “I need to exercise” and pick up the phone and call a friend to go shoot the basketball around.
Now consider those days and how much energy you had. I never seemed to run out. It drove my parents nuts! And I would eat any food that entered the house! My energy intake sure seemed to be far higher than my output in my eyes. I never really felt like I was expending a lot of energy. We walked or rode our bikes everywhere! And when we got to where we were going, there were no video games. We didn’t just plop down and start a fake basketball game on the TV in front of us. We stayed active! We just constantly expended energy and our bodies were up to the challenge because they adapted to it.
A study by James Levine and colleagues (2006) goes into detail on how effective NEAT is on our daily energy expenditure. In reading the study, I could not get over one small portion. In the section labeled “Variance in Leisure-Time NEAT,” the authors give an example of an office worker who comes home and reclines while watching TV maybe during the hours of 5:00-11:00. They have already established in the study that there is a resting energy expenditure and they are basing measurement from that. During the 6 hours he reclines and watches TV, his energy expenditure (EE) is around 8% above his resting. They compute this to be approximately 30 Calories expended for the evening. Not a lot!
Now they pose the scenario that he needs to paint a bedroom, pull weeds, and cycle to and from work. They point out that this becomes the equivalent to walking approximately 1-2 mph for that same 6-hour period increasing the NEAT to 750-1125 Calories for the evening. This means that by incorporating NEAT into his daily life, he can potentially increase his daily EE by 1000 Calories per day!! PER DAY!
It takes about 3500 Calories to burn 1 pound of fat. The last 5K I did took me just over 24 minutes and I burned about 750 calories (according to my exercise tracking app). If I rely on my running regularly as my primary energy expenditure I can expect that I am not going to burn fat very quickly. If I run regularly but also add in a reduction in use of my car (walk, ride my bike, etc.) and take the stairs instead of the elevator every day, I can significantly impact my daily EE and therefore help with weight management.
I can say in all honesty, when I get home from work, I am tired. The last thing I want to do is to pull weeds or paint a room. Then again, my work involves me being on my feet most of my regular work day, usually followed by coaching football. I get to the Bay Area Pain and Wellness Center, I can either take the elevator 2 floors up or I can take the stairs. I choose the stairs every time. So, I am on my feet or 10-12 hours already. I do work in my garden a little when I get home. Then, it’s rest time for me! I am sure I can find a way to add some more EE to my day; especially during the football offseason. But the point is, there is always a way.
So, the question now posed to you is: How will you increase your daily energy expenditure?
If you choose to be outside for you increased EE, please wear your sunscreen!
Levine, J.A., Vander Weg, M.W., Hill, J.O., Klesges, R.C. (2006). Non-exercise activity thermogenesis: the crouching tiger hidden dragon of societal weight gain. Journal of the American Heart Association, 26:729-736. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/James_Hill6/publication/7333369_Non-exercise_activity_thermogenesis_-_The_crouching_tiger_hidden_dragon_of_societal_weight_gain/links/00463528e0cda8604c000000.pdf on July 14, 2017