Ok ok, we are not necessarily talking about going on a cleaning spree or being obsessive about your ironing…...although it might help!! N.E.A.T, expanded to Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, is the energy expended (calories burned......food earned!) for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or actual specific exercise. It can range from the energy used walking to work, typing, performing chores (that cleaning spree is beneficial), labouring tasks (DIY!) and most important fidgeting.
What may seem trivial physical activities have quite the impact on metabolic rate and it is the cumulative impact of lots of, what are termed, exothermic (heat generating) actions that culminate in an individual's daily NEAT. It is, therefore, not surprising that NEAT explains a vast majority of an individual's non-resting energy needs. NEAT can account for as little as 15% of energy expenditure in the very sedentary and up to 50% in very active individuals.
How to boost your NEATness
1. Mastication (AKA science talk for chewing) can increase energy expenditure by 20%.....it seems Wrigley's Extra is not just for fresh breath!
2. Fidgeting can push energy expenditure by 20-40%.....some say that this perpetuates the myth of people with 'fast metabolisms' and actually could be down to them just being major fidgets 👀
3. Ambling around browsing in your favourite store can double your energy expenditure......any reason for a bit of retail therapy!!
4. Also purposefully walking out in your lunch hour to hunt down the latest trendy health food can triple energy expenditure 🤘🏻
Energy consumption breakdown (in a sexy donut chart
Now for the science bit
Epidemiological studies highlight the importance of culture, occupation and environment in variations of NEAT across populations. Agricultural and manual workers have high NEAT, whereas wealth and urbanisation appear to decrease NEAT. This is not great news for us city dwellers…..the main problem being our lives are surrounded by services that are designed to optimise convenience and reduce our need to do anything - think drive thru's, escalators, food delivery services, dishwashers, television!
Physiological studies demonstrate that NEAT is modulated with changes in energy balance; NEAT increases with overfeeding and decreases with underfeeding. This indicates that the importance of NEAT in how we maintain our body weight and/or develop obesity or lose weight. NEAT is affected by a multitude of factors and a single clear mechanism is unknown. However, recent studies are looking into a model suggesting how NEAT could be regulated by involving several well described neuroendocrine (Brain and hormones) systems and a variety of peripheral tissues/organs known to affect energy balance. Accordingly, defined brain regions are involved in NEAT regulation. By understanding how NEAT is regulated we may come to appreciate that spontaneous physical activity is not spontaneous at all but carefully programmed.
The subtle but consistent differences in people’s activity and lifestyle make it appear that we have two camps: those who stay thin effortlessly and those who do not. However studies on NEAT show us that really it’s a case of those who are active in an effortless or routine way and those who are not active.
So, maybe you don’t have a slow metabolism at all. Maybe you just need to get out of your desk chair and fidget your way slimmer?