So you’ve got the healthy lockdown routine waxed. You’re doing regular streaming workouts, you’re cooking your own healthy meals and you ran out of wine in week two. So why are the waistbands of your leggings still digging in more than usual? The answer may lie in a concept called non-exercise activity thermogenesis or NEAT. And the good news is that you can totally make it work for you!
What Is NEAT?
NEAT refers to the energy that you burn doing any activity that’s not eating, sleeping or formal exercise. This could include anything from walking the dog to fidgeting with your pen during a meeting that could have been an email.
How Does It Help Me Lose Weight?
You all know that weight loss (and when we talk about weight loss, we mean lowering body fat percentage) essentially comes down to the old calories in vs calories out equation: very simply put, if you burn the same or more calories than you consume, your body is less likely to store calories as fat. Well, this is where NEAT comes in.
According to Dr James Levine, who first got us talking about the phenomenon and continues to study it, the difference between someone with high NEAT compared to a similar person with low NEAT can be up to 2 000 extra calories burnt per day! In a 2006 research paper, Levine observed that obese people tended to spend 2.5 more hours each day sitting than sedentary lean people. “If obese individuals were to adopt the lean ‘NEAT-o-type,’ they could potentially expend an additional 350 kcal per day,” he theorised.
What Does This Mean For Lockdown Weight Gain?
Think about your life pre-lockdown. You probably walked a lot more. At work, you’d be walking from your car or the station to your office. Maybe you even walked to work. In the office, you’d have to walk to the bathroom, the kitchen, the photocopier. If your job isn’t office bound and you’re, say, a teacher, you can times that step count by ten.
Plus, you were hitting the shops more often. You may have gone out dancing on a Friday night. All this translates into NEAT and extra calories burnt. And that’s on top of the workouts you were clocking. Now think of your new routine — unless you’re Bruce Wayne, the daily commute around your house is not exactly a marathon. So even if you’re doing your usual daily workout, your overall activity isn’t as high as it used to be.
NEAT Tricks To Increase Your Burn
The good news is that it’s actually pretty easy to increase your NEAT burn, even under lockdown. Start practising some of these habits:
- Keep Your Hands Busy. Get hold of a fidget spinner, Rubik’s cube or even just a piece of string that you can fiddle with while watching TV. Natural fidgeters have been shown to expend more NEAT energy than those who can sit still.
- Take Movement Breaks. Every 20 minutes, get up from where you’re sitting. Jump around, do a set of squats or just take a walk around the house.
- Embrace Inconvenience. You know how you’ve structured your home office so everything is conveniently within arm’s reach? Don’t do that. Rework your environment so that you’re forced to get up for things like a glass of water or a stapler.
- Stand More Often. Standing burns more energy than sitting. If you’re already spending hours sitting at your desk, don’t spend all your free time sitting on the couch. Try pacing next time you’re on the phone or standing for your next Zoom chat.
Other ways to sneak NEAT into your day: Playing with the kids, walking the dog, gardening, housework. Essentially, just move. Your body will thank you.