What makes up the total number of calories you burn each day?
Well, there is your resting metabolic rate (some call it basal metabolic rate, and while they are technically different, the practical differences are small, so I tend to use them interchangeably). Then there is what is called the thermic effect of food (TEF), which is basically your body digesting and processing (storing and absorbing, or the opposite of that) of your food. Finally, there are your daily activities.
Now, on a percentage basis, according to the Mayo Clinic, your resting metabolic rate (RMR) makes up anywhere from 60 to 75% of you total calorie burn, the TEF another 10% (it’s a fairly stable percentage), and the rest comes from your activities (called the Thermic Effect of Physical Activity, or TEPA). This is the basic view of your total metabolic burn.
Pretty straightforward so far.
Now, here’s the trick (and the big “ah ha!” moment). Your activities can be divided into two broad categories:
Voluntary exercise-related activity thermogenisis and something called non-exercise activity thermogenisis, or NEAT.
NEAT was first coined by Dr. James Levine in 2004. He defined it as “the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise.” [Levine J. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT). Nutrition Reviews [serial online]. July 2, 2004;62(7):82-97.]
For all intents and purposes, NEAT is comprised of all of the other activity you do every day other than activities done specifically to exercise – walking to the bathroom, raking leaves, mowing the lawn… even typing, driving the car or holding the telephone to your ear.
As you can imagine, NEAT varies widely from person to person.
… it should be noted that, for the vast majority of dwellers in developed countries, exercise-related activity thermogenesis is negligible or zero. NEAT, even in avid exercisers, is the predominant component of activity thermogenesis… NEAT is therefore the most variable component of energy expenditure, both within and between subjects, ranging from ∼15% of total daily energy expenditure in very sedentary individuals to 50% or more of total daily energy expenditure in highly active individuals The enormous variety of components has made NEAT challenging to study and its role in human energy balance difficult to define. NEAT is therefore the most variable component of energy expenditure, both within and between subjects, ranging from ∼15% of total daily energy expenditure in very sedentary individuals to 50% or more of total daily energy expenditure in highly active individuals. [Levine J. Nonexercise activity thermogenensis (NEAT): Environment and Biology. American Journal Of Physiology: Endocrinology & Metabolism. May 2004;49(5):E675-E685]
Dr. Levine makes two interesting points here. The first is that most people in developed countries burn almost zero calories through exercise. I think that’s something we all know intuitively, but it’s interesting to see it spelled out.
Secondly, and most importantly, even in people who exercise a lot, the non-exercise activity likely makes up the majority of your daily calorie burn. That is HUGE!
Why, you ask?
Let’s be honest. Most of us, when we think about the “calories out” side of the energy balance equation, we primarily think of exercising. For a large percentage of you, the word “exercise” sends shivers down your spine. It may be the thought of getting sore (I’m guilty of this after a layoff), or the ever present “time” excuse that I have been harping on here and here.
With neat, you can increase your total calorie burn every day by doing more of what you were already doing! Going to the bathroom? Walk a longer route. Going to the mall? Park farther away from the door. On a conference call? Stand up, and maybe even pace a little (I use this one a lot).
The fact of the matter is there are literally hundreds of small ways that you can do a little more each day to increase the number of calories you’re burning, and time doesn’t even factor into the equation.
Which brings me to a question that seems to be completely out of left field (it’s not, believe me).
What did Winston Churchill know about NEAT?
Well, not a lot, actually. He did once describe the reason for his success in life as the economy of effort, “Never stand up when you can sit down, and never sit down when you can lie down.” While that may very well be the secret sauce for late (and great) Prime Minister’s success, it’s the opposite of what we want to do to increase NEAT and burn more fat every day.
This anecdote, however, did inspire me to come up with a set of easy to remember rules for successfully increasing NEAT.
So, reversing his logic and expanding upon it, here are some basic rules for increasing your NEAT:
- Don’t lie down if you can sit.
- Don’t sit down if you can stand.
- Don’t stand if you can walk.
- Don’t walk if you can run.
And, as my mom taught me, whether she meant to or not, when cleaning the house, turn the music up loud and dance!
Now I’d like to hear what you think. How can you increase your NEAT?
Hit me with your comments and questions below!
P.S. If you liked this post, please “like”, “tweet”, and “+1″ it.
Previous: Less is More, More is Better