Staying healthy and active isn’t just about a consistent workout routine. What you do before, after and between your workouts is just as important as the sessions themselves. From cooking your meals to sleeping and working to gardening, your body is constantly using its internal energy supply to function normally and keep you feeling your best.
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) is the term that describes how your body uses calories when you’re going about your day and when you’re not exercising. This can include sleeping, breathing, eating, cleaning — anything that doesn’t involve directly planned exercise — but also providing energy to your vital organs, including your heart. It’s not just about burning calories without exercise. NEAT is a vital physiological tool to keep your body running smoothly.
“NEAT is a process that the body uses in order to adapt to the amount of energy we give it on a daily basis,” explains Josh Silverman, Head of Education at Third Space. “If you’re eating a low amount of calories, you can expect to be slow and sluggish. Or, if you had an off day and ate everything in sight, you can expect your heart rate to increase and your pace to pick up.”
A 2014 study published that the number of calories burned from NEAT could vary by as many as 2000kcal a day between two individuals of similar size, which could come down to a few crucial differences from environment to genetic and lifestyle to occupation. For the latter, it would be safe to suggest that, for example, a sedentary office worker would burn less calories at rest when compared to a labourer spending upwards of eight hours on a construction site.
“NEAT is a vital part of our metabolism,” says Silverman. “Without, it we may find unwanted weight gain, weight-loss and also calories not going to where they are most needed — for example, the heart, immune system and brain — the body will adjust its NEAT by increasing or decreasing a whole heap of our bodily systems including our heart rate, walking pace, cognition and more, in order to adapt to the calories given.”
With that in mind, you’ll want to make sure that your body is responding to its fuel sources correctly. Below, Silverman walks you three ways to ensure that NEAT, even accidentally, isn’t stalling your progress.
- Be aware of lazy spells. If you find that reaching for the TV remote just seems all too much of a task, go and do something active. Something as easy and walking to the next room to grab something or taking a breath of fresh air could help get you out of a rut.
- Keep track of your steps. If you’re trying to eat less, you will see your step count go down each day whilst the body adapts to less calories. Download a steps app so you can ensure this isn’t happening to you.
- Use the extra energy. If you feel like you have eaten far too much and are a bit restless, use this extra energy to do some exercise. Weights, cardio and sports are a great way to counteract the effects of NEAT.