NEAT is calories that you burn that’s not from planned exercise.
This includes things such as:
Sitting on the sofa twitching your feet
Carrying shopping bags to your car
Holding your posture
NEAT has a huge part to play when it comes to your calories in vs your calories out. Below are some examples as to why this is-
When we are resting we burn 77 calories per hour
Sitting down burns 80 calories per hour
Sitting whilst fidgeting burns 118 calories per hour
Standing- burns 88 calories per hour
Standing whilst fidgeting burns 148 calories per hour
As we can see from above fidgeting can make a difference to how many calories your body is burning, this is because when you fidget you tend to move more. So it may not seem like much of a difference but when we add them up it can make a difference to our NEAT and the amount of calories that we burn each day.
From what we know, the difference between standing and standing whilst fidgeting is a 60 calorie difference. This means that for 6 hours a day that extra 60 calories that may not seem like much, but it can make a big difference as it works out at 480 calories burnt in just an 8 hour working day. This is nearly the amount of calories that a Big Mac has (a Big Mac has 508 calories in, in the U.K), so as we can see NEAT really can make a difference when it comes to weight loss and it has a huge impact on our energy expenditure.
We must also bare in mind factors such as the different jobs that people work, for example, a postman is generally going to burn more calories than a person who sits at a desk all day in work.
As humans we often think about/plan and focus our efforts on burning calories in planned exercise sessions (ie. an hour at the gym), although this is important for our weight loss maintenance, health, our joints, mobility, strength, feeling better, feeling more confident. Well, when it comes to burning calories we often forget about the huge impact that the other 23 hours in that day has, this is where NEAT comes in to play.
People can have the same BMR but their NEAT levels can be different like I mentioned before when comparing a desk worker to a manual labourer, as the more active the job is, the more calories we burn.
When people diet for a long period of time, you can start to feel lethargic, sluggish, run down, feel like you don’t want to move or exercise. The reason for this is because your body is reducing its NEAT levels, this is because it wants to save calories.
Some individuals are different and are opposed to this of course. There was an experiment done in which individuals were overfed and they fidgeted more, they ended up burning up to 800 extra calories per day just by them fidgeting more and they also still maintained their weight, they also didn’t gain any weight, all because even though they were eating more than they were before well because they fidgeted more it meant that they burnt more calories.
Have you ever seen people that tend to be stick thin but eat whatever they want? Well, this is because they have high NEAT levels and that is why they seem/look stick thin.
When we diet our body doesn’t know that we want to lower our expenditure, it doesn’t know that you want to have more energy for things such as being able to play in the garden with the children, it doesn’t know that you want to look good in denim shorts either so our only body goal in itself is to just survive. In this case, it will try to protect against us being in a calorie deficit, one of the ways that our body does this is to lower our NEAT levels.
If we were always in a calorie deficit and losing weight then we’d die reasonably quickly because our body wouldn’t be getting all of the calories and nutrients from calories that it needs.
Less walking, less standing= lethargy.
Often as people get older they find it more difficult to lose weight, they think that it’s to do with metabolism slowing down, whilst we do lose some muscle which will slightly impact our BMR (the energy that is required to keep us alive).
A difference between the elderly and the young is their NEAT levels. Young people spend more time standing and less time sitting compared to the elderly. The young also tend to walk more in a day compared to the elderly.
To maintain or lower your weight is to be more active.
An experiment was also done in which there were 3 groups of overweight postmenopausal women. They did 20 weeks of being in a calorie deficit, this was 2,800 calories then after 12 months they did a follow-up.
The programme was
High Intensity walking programme
Low Intensity walking programme
These women tracked their activity outside of the gym. After the diet, women lost 30 pounds and they lowered their activity by an average of 130-180 calories per day.
As we lose weight we have a lower BMR. The bigger we are then the bigger our BMR is as the more of you there is, there’s more body weight to maintain.
After losing the 30 pounds the women also lowered their NEAT. This means we now need even fewer calories to maintain that body weight.
The women that lowered their NEAT the most tended to gain the most weight back. This is where the idea of us tracking our steps, being active outside of the gym comes in to play and it’s really important in order to keep the weight off. Exercise can also be a great help to us for keeping the weight off.
Higher daily steps were associated with lower rate regain, the more active you can be outside of the gym, the better chance that you have of keeping the weight off because our calorie output is higher.
Do you compensate NEAT after exercise?
Some people lower their NEAT levels after an exercise session. Their body burns calories during the exercise and the body doesn’t like this as remember it wants to survive and keep your fat stores as high as it can so the body compensates by reducing your activity(NEAT) outside of the gym.
A study that was done in 2012 was where 34 women did a brisk walking plan.
Some women increased their activity or their non-exercise activity (how much walking that they did during the day).
Once some of the other women started on the exercise programme trying to burn more calories, their body didn’t like it and they tried to reduce their NEAT level so they moved less.
Before the exercise trial
The group of women who increased activity burnt an average of 2,282 calories.
The group of women who reduced activity burnt an average of 2,349 calories.
At the end of the 12-week trial- the first group burnt 2,443, the second group burnt 2,080.
If we go to the gym and train hard we may burn 300-400 calories but then if we spend the rest of the day sitting more and doing less then our overall calorie output may be the same or lower which makes us worse off when it comes to our chances of losing weight, so therefore it’s important that we keep an eye on activity outside of exercise activity (the gym etc).
Monitor activity/steps outside of the gym
A way in which we can monitor our activity/steps is by using devices such as Fitbit watches.
A lot of you will have probably heard that you should do 10,000 steps a day but when you are starting off it doesn’t have to be 10,000. If you start tracking and see where you’re at and then you then know how you can try to increase it gradually and work on it so that you will burn extra calories. If you get an extra 5,000 steps a day then this might be the same as burning an amount of 250 calories, this is the same amount of calories as some people would burn by doing a 3k run but you can burn this amount by just increasing your steps/NEAT.
You have to remember that you don’t have to be perfect to lose weight, you just have to be better than you were previously before.
So.. see where you’re at with your steps/activity and then start to increase it incrementally by doing things such as-
Walking to work instead of driving
Parking further away in a car park when going to do your local food shop
Walking during your lunch break
Moving around the office, taking breaks, stretching your legs
Fitbits aren’t 100% so try not to pay a massive amount of attention to the number of calories that it says that you have burned. Pay more attention to the number of steps that you’ve done instead and increase it over time.
The more calories we expend through NEAT, the higher we can keep our calories.
You might not want to exercise 7 days a week but you can still try to get out more such as-
Taking the dog for a walk
Going for a walk
Doing this NEAT will also help us to burn calories and recover from training.
Now we have covered what you need to know about NEAT in this blog and about how important NEAT is for our bodies and in order to achieve weight loss.