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Are you NEAT?

NEAT - Non Exercise Activated Thermogenesis is simply the incidental activity and energy expenditure that we accrue throughout the day. In other words it describes the energy expenditure that accompanies physical activities other than voluntary movements in an exercise program and includes activities of daily living, fidgeting, spontaneous muscle contractions, maintaining posture, standing etc.

Exercise is defined as ‘bodily exertion for the sake of developing and maintaining physical fitness,’ for example, playing golf or working out with your trainer. In contrast, the aim of NEAT strategies is to reduce the amount of sedentary behaviour you may engage in at work or in your leisure time.

Today's world is one where individuals are encouraged to sit more, resulting in a more sedentary lifestyle and a reduced NEAT expenditure and ultimately weight gain. But weight gain is only part of the problem. Chung et al (2018) states that studies have shown that metabolic syndrome, adiposity, poor glucose management and type 2 diabetes risk may be directly related to sitting time and/or to a low level of NEAT. This suggests that sedentary behaviour that does not increase energy expenditure substantially above resting levels, may contribute to disease risk.

NEAT activity can result in a dramatic improvement in a person's overall health by reducing obesity risk factors, including percent body fat, body mass index, cholesterol, the HDL/LDL ratio and blood plasma triglycerides.

To demonstrate the importance of NEAT, if we “walked and worked” for half of the working day and weighed 70Kg we would expand an additional 100 Kcal per hour, which could over a working day translate into 400 Kcal per day, a weekly energy deficit of 2,000 Kcal, a monthly deficit of 8,000 Kcal and weight loss over 12 months of over 13 kilograms!

Occupation and leisure time are the two principal time frames that need to be targeted for promoting individual NEAT. The pandemic has resulted in more of us working from home. This has given many the opportunity to rearrange working environment to encourage greater NEAT. Some examples include:

  • Stand instead of sitting whenever possible e.g. stand while talking on the phone and use a standing desk.

  • Set a notice on a computer or watch for every hour to get up and do something. Walk to the bathroom, grab a drink of water and then do 10 squats!

  • Change positions often. Stretch through out the day.

  • Conduct walk and talk or standing meetings.

  • Take a walking lunch break, walk to the store, run errands.

Then there is the activity we may or may not engage in at home. So much of our modern lifestyle has been about convenience and saving time. But this can come at a cost to our NEAT. Try these strategies:

  • Instead of online shopping…. Walk to the shop.

  • Instead of take away meals or delivery…. Cook dinner.

  • Instead of employing a cleaner… Vacuum, clean, dust, mop, sweep.

  • Instead of using the car wash…. Wash the car manually.

  • Instead of employing a gardener…. Garden and mow lawn manually.

  • Instead of using a dog walker… Walk the dog.

  • Instead of using the watering system…. Water plants by hand.

Simply find more opportunities to move both at home and at work!

And what about leisure? Today many of us spend hours on end watching Netflix, sitting and spending time on multiple screens, checking in on social media or surfing the web. This sitting or reclined behaviour comes at a great cost to our NEAT and health.

  • Instead of catching up for a social coffee or drink… Try a social walk instead.

  • Instead of reading on the couch… Try walking and listen to an audio book.

  • Instead of watching TV or surfing on your I Pad…. Enjoy screen time on a stationary cycle or treadmill.

  • Instead of sitting…. Just stand and do the above

One useful way of tracking NEAT is through the use of a pedometer or wearable technology that logs steps. “Normal healthy active adults” generally walk between 7,000-13,000 steps per day. Children are reported to walk 11,000- 13,000 steps per day. Unfortunately, there are some sedentary people that do not even walk 2,000 steps!

In a study conducted in Japan a group of diabetic subjects who completed 19,000 steps per day lost on average 7.7kg over a 6-8-week period compared to 4kg lost by subjects who dieted only and averaged approximately 4,000 steps a day.

So what’s in 10,000 steps?

  • For adults 10,000 steps approximate to a distance of about 8 km and has the potential to burn between 300-400 kcal depending on body size.

  • The 10,000 steps should be included with or within your incidental and active living activities. The duration for 10,000 steps to be completed is generally between 60-100 minutes depending on the speed of the steps.

  • For the intensity to be classified as “moderate intensity” it is recommended that we walk at a 100 steps per minute. This translates into approximately 1,000 steps per 10 minutes, which has a moderate metabolic equivalent or at an approximate speed of 5 km/ hour.

In conclusion, we need to treat movement as an opportunity rather than an inconvenience. We need to create an environment for constant postural change from sitting to standing to walking to sitting. By doing so, creating breaks and minimizing sitting time can have benefits: To our weight, metabolic health and reducing postural complaints associated with sedentary lifestyle.

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