You may or may not have heard of NEAT movement. But it can be a great way of burning calories. When you move throughout the day, your activities if done effectively and safely, contribute to your overall health. Moving is essential to living well and while some individuals generate a significant amount of calories performing NEAT movement, the Department of Health and Human Services provides guidelines for the amount of weekly exercise, as well as guidelines for physical activity, and strength (resistance training).
So, what exactly is NEAT movement? NEAT stands for Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis. While it sounds very scientific, it refers to any movement we do during the day that isn’t intentional exercise. When you think about it, it can be any type of play, gardening, work-related activity, cleaning, cooking, or you name it!
Movement is essential to the health of our bodies. Sometimes, we feel frustrated when we don’t fit in our usual exercise routine. But consider if you’ve been working hard in your home or yard, or you have a heavy physical job that this can in some ways offset the lack of exercise. However, this depends on the type of activities, your total energy expenditure, and the effectiveness of the body movements compared to that of your exercise routine.
NEAT is a highly variable component of daily total energy expenditure and a low level of NEAT is associated with obesity.1 NEAT varies between two people of similar size by up to 2000 kcal/day because of people’s different occupations and leisure-time activities. Data support that NEAT is pivotal in the regulation of human energy expenditure and body weight regulation and that it is also important for understanding the cause and effective treatment for obesity.2
A study examined pre-menopausal women who were sedentary and had no exercise training within the past year. After a 4-week weight program, they were assigned to one of 3 groups: weight loss with aerobic training 3 times per week, weight loss with resistance training 3 times per week, and weight loss without exercise training. The authors, after comparing physical exercise and energy expenditure variables, concluded that exercise training, particularly resistance training is particularly important for the maintenance of NEAT following weight loss. 3
In reality, most people as they age may become more sedentary and gain weight. While NEAT movement counts, with age, obesity, and sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass) become more prevalent. These age-related declines also decrease NEAT and according to one review, support that low-volume, high-intensity aerobic and/or resistance training can slow sarcopenia, promote ease of movement, stimulate NEAT, and reduce the accumulation of fat when at least a small amount of high-intensity training is included.4
What is important as we age is to build an exercise routine and activities of daily living that support NEAT and help us to maintain a healthy weight. This can be particularly difficult when you are struggling with fatigue, chronic joint pain, stiffness, and an overall lack of energy. Although movement is essential to maintaining the functioning of our bodies and helping to overcome symptoms of pain and stiffness, it can be difficult to do under these conditions.
The key is to find a variety of active movements and exercises that you can perform safely. Consulting with your healthcare professional before starting a new exercise regimen is particularly important if you have been sedentary or have a chronic health condition. Knowing that you can build in a variety of activities that you enjoy, that help you be productive or achieve your recommended exercise routine, can provide hope and reassurance that you are contributing to your overall health and well-being. Being patient with yourself, paying attention to how your body responds to an activity, and knowing when to adjust your intensity in an activity or exercise, are important to a successful movement and exercise plan.
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1. Chung N, Park MY, Kim J, et al. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT): a component of total daily energy expenditure. J Exerc Nutrition Biochem. 2018;22(2). doi:10.20463/jenb.2018.0013
2. Levine JA. Nonexercise activity thermogenesis ? liberating the life-force. J Intern Med. 2007;262(3):273-287. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2796.2007.01842.x
3. Hunter GR, Fisher G, Neumeier WH, Carter SJ, Plaisance EP. Exercise Training and Energy Expenditure following Weight Loss. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2015;47(9). doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000000622
4. Hunter GR, Plaisance EP, Carter SJ, Fisher G. Why intensity is not a bad word: Optimizing health status at any age. Clinical Nutrition. 2018;37(1). doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2017.02.00
I am a Master’s prepared RN, National Board-Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Board-Certified Functional Wellness Coach, and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner. I help people fix their chronic inflammation & pain with in-home lab testing, client assessments, personalized natural healing protocols, and online coaching to help them move from pain to peace so that they feel better, move better, and live better.