By Patrick Wood, ATC, CSCS, CES

What’s one of the simplest ways to burn more calories and lose that last ten pounds? Most people don’t realize that simply increasing non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) — or the energy we use throughout the day for those mundane and quick tasks (like standing, walking, doing chores, etc.) — can have a huge impact on the number of calories you burn every day and the amount of fat you can lose long-term.

How Do We Use Energy?

Von Loeffelholz and Birkenfeld conducted a study on NEAT to analyze what it is and how much of an impact it can have [1]. They broke down how we burn calories or use energy each day. The amount of energy we use in a day is called total energy expenditure (TEE). They explain how our TEE is made up of three main factors:

(1) Basal metabolic rate (BMR): this is the amount of energy your body uses in order for you to maintain your vitals and stay alive. This varies a lot from person to person and depends on their size, sex, and bodily processes.

(2) Thermic effect of food (TEF): this is the energy that is used to digest the food you eat (this can make up as much as 8–15% of your total energy expenditure for the day).

(3) Energy used in physical activity: this can be from exercise-related activity thermogenesis (EAT), like the demanding workouts you do every morning, or from NEAT. The maximum amount of TEE that EAT can account for in the average person who regularly engages in physical activity is 15-30%. NEAT is only responsible for 6-10% of your total energy expenditure if you live a rather sedentary lifestyle, while it can be responsible for 50% or more of your daily energy expenditure if you are active (Von Loeffelholz & Birkenfeld, 2018).

Let’s Break This Down

The take-away here is that NEAT can have a major impact on your TEE. So, what does this mean exactly? Let’s say you have someone whose TEE is 2,000 calories.

If this person has a BMR of 800 calories (40% of TEE) — which is the energy used for basic functions like breathing, organ function, etc. — and burns 200 calories with the thermic effect of food (10% of TEE) — or the amount of energy it takes to digest food — you are left with 1,000 calories. An active person can burn the full remaining 1,000 calories (50% of TEE) just by having a high level of NEAT. A sedentary person would burn about 200 calories with NEAT (10% of TEE) and then would have to do some sort of planned exercise, like going for a run or to the gym, to burn the other 40%. This is also really hard to do because, as stated previously, the average active individual only burns about 15-30% of their calories with their gym session.

Option 1: TEE = 2,000 Calories

BMR:                                       800 calories              40% TEE

Thermic effect of food:         200 calories               10% TEE

NEAT:                                     1000 calories           50% TEE

 

Option 2: TEE = 2,000 Calories

BMR:                                       800 calories              40% TEE

Thermic effect of food:              200 calories               10% TEE

NEAT:                                     200 calories             10% TEE

EAT:                                       800 calories             40% TEE

This tables proves how powerful NEAT can be. A person with a high NEAT alone can burn more calories than a person with a low NEAT who exercises a couple times a week.

As shown in Von Loeffelholz and Birkenfeld’s study, the average NEAT for a person with a job mostly in the seated position burn a maximum of 700 calories a day. They then say the average NEAT for a person who mostly stays in the standing position throughout the day can burn a maximum of 1,400 calories a day. People who do more manual labor type jobs can theoretically have a NEAT burning over 2,000 calories a day (Von Loeffelholz & Birkenfeld, 2018).

These statistics show two important things:

  1. How simple it is to increase NEAT.
  2. How much of an impact NEAT can have on your TEE.

 Imagine burning an extra 700 calories a day simply by standing at your job instead of sitting. This would have a major impact on your fat loss goals.

Summary Of This Evidence

This article’s intention is not to tell you to increase NEAT and then you don’t have to exercise. The main point is NEAT can be a very helpful tool that, if combined with a healthier diet and some physical activity, can yield great results. It also shows how simple it is to increase your NEAT.

How Can You Increase and Track NEAT?

 NEAT can easily be increased by moving more and standing more throughout the day. Park farther away at the store rather than the front row, take the stairs instead of the escalator, go for a walk on your lunch break, or fold your laundry instead of sitting on the couch and watching TV. Tracking is easy nowadays with Fitbits and Apple watches. These track your steps which can be a good way to track your NEAT. Get one of these trackers and see where you are on average. Try to increase that goal little by little and in turn increase your NEAT.

 

Patrick Wood is a Certified Athletic Trainer, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, Corrective Exercise Specialist, and Owner of PW Fitness. He has experience working with the general population all the way up to professional athletes. With his educational and real life experiences, he hopes to help educate and assist you in achieving your health and fitness goals. Follow him on the platforms below to receive all of his free content, and feel free to contact him with any questions!

Website/Blog: www.pwfitnesscoaching.com

Instagram: @pwfitnesscoaching

Facebook: PW Fitness

YouTube: PW Fitness Coaching

Podcast (Coming Soon to iTunes and Spotify): The PW Fitness Podcast

Email: pwfitnesscoaching@gmail.com

 

References

Von Loeffelholz C, Birkenfeld A. “The Role of Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis in HumanObesity,” [Updated 2018 Apr 9]. In: Feingold KR, Anawalt B, Boyce A, et al. (eds.). Endotext [Internet]. South Dartmouth (MA): MDText.com, Inc.; 2000-. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279077/