20 Ways to Increase Your NEAT

Sitting a lot is associated with a host of health problems (including obesity) but unfortunately, it’s the way many of us spend much of our days.

I am a pretty active person: I go to the gym and lift weights and/or do a Crossfit workout 4-5 days/week and I’m out and about with my kids a lot. Also, my job as a blogger includes cooking and photography (two things I do standing up). Despite all of this, however, I often still spend large portions of the day being sedentary because I am seated in front of a computer screen writing, doing social media, etc.

Woman working on her computer at a standing desk.

In an effort to counteract the effects of sitting so much, I’ve lately become interested in something called NEAT and I am doing all I can to increase mine. I think NEAT is pretty neat and I want you to know all about it, too!

NEAT is an acronym for Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. According to Dr. James Levine, NEAT is defined as “the energy expenditure of all physical activities other than volitional sporting-like exercise.” In other words: NEAT is all the moving around you do that’s separate from the time you spend intentionally exercising (at the gym or out running, etc.).

Numerous studies have shown that NEAT varies greatly from person to person and that those who engage in the most NEAT burn far more calories during the day (and are consequently leaner) than those who are mostly sedentary. I’ve seen estimates that you can burn anywhere from an extra 300-600 calories/day just by increasing your NEAT.

I am pretty sure we all have “that friend” who seems to have a crazy high metabolism and never gains weight no matter what they eat, right? I bet you there is nothing “magical” about their metabolism…they are likely just the type of person who just never stops moving…they probably have a very high NEAT!

An increased calorie burn is not the only reason to work on increasing your NEAT, though: according to this article in the NY Times, when we are not moving around, our insulin sensitivity drops and the enzymes responsible for dealing with fats in the body are adversely affected (both of which may increase risk for heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes).

Being sedentary may also lead to postural problems, muscular imbalances, a decrease in overall flexibility, and other deleterious health outcomes for both children and adults. Many people seem to think that if they spend some time working out most days, this counteracts the bad stuff that happens when you sit a lot, but this does not actually seem to be the case.

According to another NY Times article, you can train for a marathon but still be considered a “couch potato” based on the number of hours you sit each day…“time spent exercising does not supplant time spent sitting.”

Ok, so sitting a lot does not promote good health…there seems to be no doubt about that. But what can you do about it if the way you spend your day involves a lot of sitting? Are you just out of luck? Not necessarily. There are actually a lot of things you can do to offset the negatives of sitting.

20 Ways To Increase Your NEAT

1. Walk: anytime, anywhere. Slow or fast. Walk instead of drive or park farther away than you need when you drive somewhere so you can walk more. If you take public transportation, get off the bus or subway a stop or two early so you can do some walking. Give yourself extra time for grocery shopping so you can walk around the store more. Go to the mall with friends not to shop, but to walk.
2. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Go up and down the stairs of your (school, work, or apartment) building a few times a day more than you need to. Take extra trips up and down the stairs at home.
3. Bounce your leg up and down while you’re sitting.
4. Tap your foot or wiggle your toes while you are sitting.
5. Fidget more.
6. Use a standing desk (or other work surface that allows you to stand).
7. Use a treadmill desk.
8. Get up every 30-60 minutes or so to get some water/go to the bathroom/take a break from sitting.
9. Do some stretches daily or several times a day.
10. Dance around your house or go dancing with friends.
11. Cook a meal instead of grabbing takeout or going to a restaurant.
12. Do the dishes by hand.
13. Clean the house.
14. Fold the laundry and put all of the clothes away.
15. Iron your clothes.
16. Play a musical instrument/do some knitting/engage in another hobby that keeps you moving.
17. Do some gardening/yardwork.
18. Shovel snow in the winter.
19. Play with your kids/pets.
20. Get a Fitbit or a pedometer so you can track your activity during the day. Many people report that having one of these devices is motivation to be more active each and every day.

Suggested Reading:
How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy! by Paul Chek.
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis- It’s NEAT! on Summer Tomato.
NEAT Exercises for Couch Potatoes on HuffPo.
Central neural and endocrine mechanisms of non-exercise activity thermogenesis and their potential impact on obesity.
Abundant daily non-sedentary activity is associated with reduced prevalence of metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance.
Time use and physical activity: a shift away from movement across the globe.

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