What is NEAT activity and does it really matter?

Sometimes it seems your metabolism works against you, and weight loss feels easier for others, but not for yourself. We all have the same human body, but even people with a similar height, sex, and other parameters, may have an edge in maintaining a lean figure. Why is that? NEAT activity is probably one of those factors you’re not yet considering!

What is NEAT activity?

NEAT activity is a subdivision of physical activity-related energy expenditure. It stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, and it counts the energy you use for your daily activities without a planned workout schedule or exercise-like motions.

Measuring your daily energy expenditure requires adding a few elements to the formula:

  • Resting Metabolic Rate: It measures the energy your body uses to stay alive (heart pumps, breathing muscles, metabolic processes). It stands for around 60% of your total energy expenditure.
  • Diet-Induced Thermogenesis: It measures the energy your body uses to digest and absorb food. It stands for around 10-15% of your total energy expenditure.
  • Physical activity-related Energy Expenditure: It measures the energy you use for voluntary muscle motion. It stands for around 15-30% of your total energy expenditure. This one can be subdivided into:
    • Exercise-related activity thermogenesis (EAT): Visiting the gym, doing sports, or any planned and structured physical activity you use to be healthy.
    • Non-exercise related activity thermogenesis (NEAT): Changing posture, walking inside your house, fidgeting, cleaning, standing, and many other activities in your daily living.

Can you use NEAT activity to your advantage?

Successful weight loss strategies require reducing your energy intake (dieting, intermittent fasting, reducing meal portions) while increasing your energy expenditure. The latter is traditionally done through exercise-related activity thermogenesis. However, if we compare EAT vs. NEAT, non-exercise related energy expenditure can be much larger, and more important for weight loss.

According to a study published in the Science journal, obese individuals sit an average 2 hours longer than lean people. When these obese individuals started to adopt NEAT-enhanced activities, they spent an average 350 kcal/day more, which translates into 18 kg of weight in one year. That was by only engaging in low-grade activities and numerous movements through the day that do not count as exercise.

We need more studies about it but so far NEAT activity poses as a promising alternative to consider in obesity treatment, especially in individuals with mobility issues or cardiovascular problems that only allow for a limited prescription of physical activity.

Recent studies have also shown that, similar to exercise, NEAT activity can also reduce the cardiovascular risk, the risk of all-cause mortality, and the life expectancy. Thus, if you want to improve your metabolic health, it is not only important to consider exercise but also NEAT activity as a potential source of weight loss and cardiovascular health.