There are many variables that come into play when trying to lose weight, but one of the most obvious strategies is by increasing energy expenditure. Typically, the first conclusion we come to is to exercise more frequently or for a longer duration, which is great! The benefits of exercise are abundant and don’t need to be stated here. There is more to this equation, however, than just exercise. The total amount of energy we expend everyday is calculated as such :
Total Daily Energy Expenditure = Basal Metabolic Rate + Thermic Effect of Food + Activity Thermogenesis
Basal metabolic rate is the amount of energy that our body expends on a daily basis just to maintain all of the essential functions of life. This is basically how much energy you would expend if you laid in bed all day without any sort of physical activity. Our basal metabolic rate accounts for approximately 60%-65% of our total daily energy expenditure. BMR isn’t something we can actively change everyday as it consists of unconscious bodily functions. In the long run, however, we can increase BMR by increasing lean muscle mass. I am not saying you have to become a bodybuilder, however, muscle tissue is very metabolically demanding and the addition of a little muscle can go a long way for sustained weight loss by increasing the amount of calories you burn at rest.
The thermic effect of food is the amount of energy your body uses in the process of digesting food and accounts for about 6-12% of TDEE. Different foods have different thermic effects. Protein is the most metabolically demanding nutrient to digest with approximately 15-30% of the calories from protein being burned through the process of digesting it. Carbohydrates has the second highest TEF followed by fats with 5-10% and 0-3%, respectively .
Finally, there is Activity Thermogenesis which can broken down into calories burned during exercise and non-exercise activity thermogenesis or for short, NEAT. Altogether, activity thermogenesis makes up about 20-30% of TDEE. NEAT includes all physical activity outside of your workouts. While at first glance, this may not seem like a big player in weight-loss, it has a lot more potential then you may realize. One study found that those who incorporated more NEAT in their lives tended to have smaller waist circumferences, less abdominal fat, lower serum insulin levels and blood pressure and greater HDL cholesterol . By incorporating a few simple strategies to increase NEAT, it is possible to increase energy expenditure by as much as 350 calories a day or more . This equates to an additional pound of weight loss every 10 days or almost 3 more pounds of weight loss every month for an additional 36 pounds a year.
Here are some ways that you can incorporate more NEAT into your life:
1.) Go for a walk with your spouse or a friend
This one is my personal favorite. Walks are precious to my wife and I. We go for at least one walk together everyday with the goal of 2-3. Our walks typically last anywhere from 15-30 minutes with the occasional hour long walk if we get lost in conversation. This is not only a great way for us to get more physical activity into our day outside of our workouts, but it has been wonderful for our marriage as it gives us time to catch up with each other and talk about things together that we don’t get to talk about with others. This can also be a great way to connect with other friends and family members. One easy way we incorporate these walks is by trying to go for a walk after each meal together. The accumulation of 2-3 of these walks a day could easily amount to 3-4 miles or roughly 300 – 400 calories burned. These walks have become a cherished staple of our day.
2.) Stand more at work and throughout the day
This is one that is starting to gain more attention these days with standing desks being found in more and more offices around the country. The average American spends about 54.9% of their day or 7.7 hours a day engaging in sedentary behaviors such as sitting . These levels of sedentary activity are much higher than they were in previous generations and is considered one of the leading contributors to rising obesity levels in our country . By simply choosing to stand instead of sitting you can burn an additional 50 calories per hour. If you spent have of your work day standing rather than sitting, this would equate to about 200 extra calories burned per day or an additional 1.5-2lbs per month or 18-24lbs a year.
3.) Choose a spot in the back of the parking lot
Whether parking for work or for the grocery store, parking farther away is an easy way to get more walking in. By simply parking a 100 yards from the entrance, roughly the length of a football field, for work and for two errands a day would add up to about an additional half mile of walking a day which is about 50 extra calories. While this sounds small this is an additional 4-6 pounds per year.
4.) Ride a bike!
This one is easier for some than others, however, biking to school or work everyday can add up quite a bit overtime, save you gas and the hassle of parking and can be quite enjoyable in good weather. This is one I incorporated when I was at Texas A&M University. I lived about 1.3 miles away from campus and typically went back and forth between my apartment and campus at least twice a day, not including the amount of time spent biking around campus. This simple choice caused an additional 250-350 calories per day or about 2.5 – 3lbs per month and didn’t add much time to my commute.
5.) Go for a quick walk on your lunch break
Most full-time jobs provide about thirty minutes to an hour for a lunch break every day. If you plan ahead and pack your lunch, this should hopefully leave you with 10-40 minutes left during your break. Get out of the office and go for a quick walk. The fresh air and quiet of a nice walk can not only add to your physical activity, but also help you return to work feeling refreshed and more productive. Take a co-worker with you and you may make a new friend or at least have someone to vent to about things in the work place. As small as a 15 minute walk every work day can add an additional 100 calories per day or almost 1lb a month from this one small change.
There are a lot of ways you can incorporate NEAT into your daily life, but there is something important to remember. There is one scientific theory known as the Behavioral Economic Theory  that proposes that choosing behaviors such as parking farther away from the grocery store or standing more at work or going for a walk during your lunch break are based around their “behavioral costs.” Not surprisingly, people are less likely to choose a behavior if it is not enjoyable or less accessible as these have a higher behavioral cost. This is important, because if you understand this theory you can take steps to encourage this type of behavior change. By making the decision to get a standing desk or taking someone with you on your walks that you enjoy talking to you are reducing their behavioral cost. Think creatively about your typical day and the activities you engage in and you may be surprised by the amount of opportunities you discover to incorporate NEAT in your life. While they may seem like small changes now, they can create great change in the long run. As a great coach once said,
“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make the big things happen.”
– John Wooden
I hope you enjoyed this post! We would love to know the NEAT things you do in your life! Have a happy and healthy day!
- Levine, J.A., Non-exercise activity thermogenesis. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 2003. 62(3): p. 667-679.
- Westerterp, K.R., Diet induced thermogenesis. Nutrition & Metabolism, 2004. 1(1): p. 5.
- Hamasaki, H., et al., Correlations of non-exercise activity thermogenesis to metabolic parameters in Japanese patients with type 2 diabetes. Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome, 2013. 5.
- Levine, J.A., et al., Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. The Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon of Societal Weight Gain, 2006. 26(4): p. 729-736.
- Matthews, C.E., et al., Amount of Time Spent in Sedentary Behaviors in the United States, 2003–2004. American journal of epidemiology, 2008. 167(7): p. 875-881.
- Scott, H.M., T.N. Tyton, and C.A. Horswill, OCCUPATIONAL SEDENTARY BEHAVIOR AND SOLUTIONS TO INCREASE NON-EXERCISE ACTIVITY THERMOGENESIS. Pensar en Movimiento: Revista de Ciencias del Ejercicio y la Salud, 2016. 14(2): p. 1-21.
- Epstein, L.H., Integrating theoretical approaches to promote physical activity. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 1998. 15(4): p. 257-265.