That person you know who seems to eat anything but still stays skinny? You might think he was genetically gifted with a fast metabolism. The truth is, he probably wasn’t. One of the biggest reasons thin people are thin is because of something else entirely different – they have a high level of NEAT.
Or, you might think that the person you know who seems to eat like a bird but is still overweight because she was genetically cursed with a slow metabolism. Again, usually not the case. One of the biggest reasons people are overweight (or have trouble losing weight) is because they have a low level of NEAT.
If you’re familiar with NEAT, that’s excellent, and periodic reminders are important so keep reading. If you don’t know what NEAT is, it’s something you’ll want to start paying attention to. Either way, here’s the good news: If you increase your NEAT (it’s simple with the tips in today’s post), you can burn more fat without even dieting. That’s because NEAT isn’t about dieting – it’s about moving.
NEAT is all the calories you burn from casual walking, shopping, yard work, housework, pacing around, and standing around (being up on your feet instead of sitting). It even includes tiny little things like changing posture and fidgeting.
Scientists have confirmed that NEAT is one of the biggest reasons there’s so much difference between individuals in how many calories they burn every day.
Dr. James Levine, an endocrinologist and top researcher in the field says:
“Obese people move 2.5 hours less per day than lean people. This means they burn roughly 350 fewer calories per day.”
For most people, NEAT accounts for about 30% of physical activity calories spent daily. But NEAT can run as low as 15% in sedentary people and as high as 50% in highly active people.
Walking makes up the majority of NEAT. Obviously, the type of work you do is a big influence on NEAT as well. If you work at a desk all day long and hardly get up, your NEAT level is low. If you deliver mail, or work any type of physical job, your NEAT can be quite high.
The fact that most people sit all day long and surf the web, watch TV and play video games is not a minor factor in the obesity problem. We have become a desk-bound, technology-based society. 150 years ago, 90% of the world’s population worked in agriculture or did some type of physical labor to earn a living.
“The human body evolved over a million years. But the car-computer-chair-elevator-television-based world has evolved in less than a century” says Dr. Levine. “So you’re imposing a massive environmental change on a very old biology. No wonder it all goes haywire.”
Short of changing your job from desk jockey to lumberjack, you may be thinking that NEAT is too trivial to amount to anything. If you looked at it one activity at a time, you’d probably be right. However, when you look at it from the long term perspective, and when you make small changes in daily activities that become a habitual part of your lifestyle, it accumulates over the weeks, months and years.
In fact, it can add up so much that it’s a big mistake to focus all your attention on how many calories you burn during your formal cardio or lifting sessions, while completely ignoring all the moving around you do rest of the day. If you focus on moving more throughout the whole day, you can often crank up your calorie burn to a whole new level that will help you stay a whole lot leaner.
You can implement a NEAT strategy by thinking about simple ways you can become more active – outside of your regular workouts – and including them in your daily behavior goals. Here are some ideas:
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Park in the back of the lot, not the front.
- Stand or pace more instead of sitting. (Tip: Even in between sets when you’re in the gym lifting).
- Get a desk treadmill (“deskmill”) or mini-stepper.
- Get out of your chair and walk around, stretch or do some body weight exercises on the hour, every hour while working at your desk. (Fitness trackers like the FitBit Charge 4 will nudge you do that).
- Do not use labor saving devices all the time (riding mowers, leaf blowers, snow blowers, golf carts, electric bikes, and so on.)
- Do some of your own house or yard work.
- For short local trips and errands, walk instead of taking a cab or driving.
- Look for other opportunities to walk more (walk your dog, for example).
- Spend less leisure time watching TV, surfing the internet or playing video games, and more time engaging in physical recreation, sports, boating, cycling, hiking, and so forth.
- Watch less TV, unless you’re watching it on a treadmill or stationary bike.
- If you have kids, get as much physical activity with them as possible.
- Be aware of seasonal variations, especially if you live somewhere with harsh winters. The difference between summer and winter activity can vary two-fold! (It’s not just holiday food that causes winter weight gain – it’s also low NEAT).
Out of all these tips, do your best to spend less time in a chair and more time walking. You may even want to invest in a fitness tracker (pedometer), which will tally up your steps every day.
A study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion found that in previously sedentary overweight adults, subjects who met a 10,000-steps-per-day goal saw large improvements in body composition. Those who missed their goal did not. Yes, it’s true – the popular 10,000 steps per day recommendation has scientific support.
Also consider the older order Amish culture where modern labor-saving technology has not been fully adopted. Among these Amish, the obesity rate is only 4%, compared to 30% in the USA overall. A study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise reported that Amish men walked an average of 18,425 steps per day and women 14,196 steps per day. The average American logs in about 5,000 steps a day.
That’s a difference of 400-600 calories per day which gives us a good approximation of how physical activity has changed as technology has advanced over the past century.
Most interesting of all, the meals of the Amish were not low in carbs or low in calories – they included meat, eggs, gravy, potatoes, bread and even pies and cakes – they didn’t diet. The Amish stayed trim by balancing their food intake with high activity.
There’s a common misconception among some trainers and serious fitness enthusiasts that if an activity isn’t high in intensity, then it’s worthless for fat loss. Research studies like these prove that this isn’t true at all and that walking is an effective way to beat body fat.
This is one of the many reasons that for years, I’ve been sponsoring fitness contests that focus on increasing your step count every day. To find out about the next “Burn The Fat Step Challenge” that you can enter, check out the Burn The Fat Challenge Contest Calendar
– Tom Venuto
About Tom Venuto
Tom Venuto is a natural bodybuilding and fat loss coach. He is also a recipe creator specializing in fat-burning, muscle-building cooking. Tom is a former competitive bodybuilder and is today a full-time fitness writer, blogger, and author. His book, Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle is an international bestseller, first as an ebook and now as a hardcover and audiobook. The Body Fat Solution, Tom’s book about emotional eating and long-term weight maintenance, was an Oprah Magazine and Men’s Fitness Magazine pick. Tom is also the founder of Burn The Fat Inner Circle – a fitness support community with over 51,000 members worldwide since 2006. Click here for membership details