Up Your N.E.A.T Game!
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis
Pubmed defines this as;
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) is the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise. It ranges from the energy expended walking to work, typing, performing yard work, undertaking agricultural tasks and fidgeting. Even trivial physical activities increase metabolic rate substantially and it is the cumulative impact of a multitude of exothermic 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. Epidemiological studies highlight the importance of culture in promoting and quashing NEAT. Agricultural and manual workers have high NEAT, whereas wealth and industrialization appear to decrease NEAT. Physiological studies demonstrate, intriguingly, that NEAT is modulated with changes in energy balance; NEAT increases with overfeeding and decreases with underfeeding. Thus, NEAT could be a critical component in how we maintain our body weight and/or develop obesity or lose weight. The mechanism that regulates NEAT is unknown. However, hypothalamic factors have been identified that specifically and directly increase NEAT in animals. By understanding how NEAT is regulated we may come to appreciate that spontaneous physical activity is not spontaneous at all but carefully programmed.
It’s been a few years since I’ve made the time to go hiking on a weekly basis. The excuses can mount up…time, heat, trails getting more crowded, distance, etc., I used to love finding solitude and getting “lost” in nature. I’d let my mind wander and wonder, which was meditative and therapeutic. I still treasure that solitude and meditative mind wandering. It’s when I do my best planning, or come up with new ways to approach something.
Nowadays, in an effort to combine my active meditation and double down on my time, I have substituted my weekly hike for yard work. Some days it’s swinging the weed-eater or trimming branches. Other days it’s carrying the watering can, or turning the compost…or all of the above. I am outside, breathing fresh air and I enjoy it. Noah will go to bed (first attempt) and I’ll go out and water the plants, and watch the fireflies as the sun goes down.
While it may be termed “yard work”, it is a huge portion of my NEAT. It’s something that I enjoy and it doesn’t feel like work. It doesn’t take the place of my workout. It’s an addition to my life which also happens to serve another purpose. A greater purpose in my opinion. I’m learning and cultivating an environment which allows me to grow food to eat, but also provides the creatures of nature a space to put on our own little Discovery Channel.
You may not find “yard work” appealing, or may not live in a space with a yard…but finding a way to supplement your life with more N.E.A.T. will certainly help you in your pursuit of a healthier life. It’s also very likely to help you maintain a more lean body composition.
So besides yard work, what else can I do? Maybe it’s walking or biking to work, or walking to lunch on your work break. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Not driving around the parking lot 17 times to find the closest parking spot. Sweeping your house instead of letting the robot do it for you all the time. Whatever the N.E.A.T. is, those that find a way to sneak more non-exercise activity thermogenesis into their lives (getting those extra life reps) can reap the benefits in the gym as well. These low intensity activities can also serve as a great way to flush out some soreness!