Yea that was a clickbait headline. I wanted to call it The Effects of NEAT on Metabolism but needed to clarify a few things along the way…
The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) website shows alarming rises in the rates of obesity since 1980. The WHO recommendations around partaking in daily activity and exercise has doubled, advice has been dispensed constantly on what to eat and what not to eat but still non of this has done much to make a significant impact or turn things around when it comes to reducing obesity.
Of course it doesn’t help that modern living is designed to make us burn less calories on a daily basis. We live in a society that sees lack of having to move or physically exert ourselves as progress. This is a huge problem when it comes to burning fat and keeping unwanted weight off long term.
You have probably heard the term metabolism or trainers and coaches talk about elevating metabolism. We all have what is called our Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and this is the amount of calories we burn daily just by living – factors that can effect our BMR are weight, height, gender, age, body composition, climate, body temperature, hormone levels and health (i.e. illness, fever, injuries).
Numerous trainers will tell you that muscle burns more calories than fat and therefore elevates metabolism – which isn’t wrong, but after attending a seminar in the UK this year, I was surprised to find out just how much this was overestimated.
Also, you have probably heard folks talking about having a ‘slow’ or ‘fast’ metabolism and underline this as being the reason why they cant lose or gain weight. This article will debunk that excuse and present a more likely reason.
BMR is one way that we burn calories daily, another is TEF – Thermic Effect of Food, which basically means the amount of calories we expend through processing food for use and storage. Some foods such as protein elevate TEF more than carbs and fats, and it is all of these little strategies that help us to burn more calories OVER TIME.
So along with BMR and TEF there is one other important and often overlooked factor that determines how many calories we burn on a daily basis and is generally the factor as to why folks are successful in losing and maintaining weight and others aren’t. Luckily, it is the topic of this post… enter NEAT or Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.
What exactly is Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis?
Neat is basically the amount of calories we burn daily through non-volitional muscle activity (i.e. fidgeting, muscle tone, maintaining posture, walking, doing house work, working – basically anything that isn’t classed as exercise).
At the PTCC in Bath, James Kreiger made an excellent presentation around fat loss and specifically the role of NEAT in fat loss and he explained that NEAT may account for up to 15% daily energy expenditure in non active individuals – up to 50% in active individuals. In measured studies, NEAT ranged from 138-685 calories expended per day!!!
As I mentioned above, technology and modern living reduces NEAT and this ties in with rising rates of obesity. We are moving less on a daily basis. One of the main themes of this seminar was looking at was to increase NEAT and thus maintain weight loss long term.
James went to the trouble of collecting data on daily tasks (in and out of the workplace) and measuring how many calories each burned. The following slides give some examples…
And in the workplace…
As you can see, over time the calories add up! In order to create a successful fat loss program it is necessary to build up a strategy around NEAT and find manageable ways to increase NEAT for the individual.
Going by the above, walking contributes to the majority of daily NEAT, so it would make sense to look to increase this activity on a daily basis – walking to work, taking the stairs, walking pets.
Other strategies would include things like house work – doing the dishes by hand instead of throwing them into a dishwasher, garden work, diy around house, cycling to work, take wheels off luggage (for no particular reason luggage with wheels is a pet peeve of mine, I’m all about that NEAT lifestyle and I never realised!), reduce time spent on sedentary behaviours – and this will undoubtedly help with stress and sleep too.
The downside is that NEAT decreases with age (older folks just become less active) and also genetics can predetermine NEAT levels too. NEAT can also remain low in individuals after they have lost a lot of weight – and this can sometimes be a factor in why people can find it hard to keep weight off.
Basically it is our bodies way of being efficient – if we lose weight, we go into ‘low power mode’, moving less so as to preserve energy and throw in the combination of modern living, weight loss can become extremely difficult. It is worth noting too that women also seem to have a consistently lower NEAT response throughout the numerous studies as well and something to consider for coaches.
Dr. Levine is at the forefront of NEAT studies and he has determined that people that are able to maintain a healthy bodyweight expend approximately 2 hours more NEAT per day than individuals that have difficulty maintaining their weight. Here is a short video where he discusses the impacts of low NEAT levels on the immune system.
From a coaching point of view, looking more at NEAT and the studies on the topic, it has made me think more about the bigger picture when it comes to weight loss for individuals and thinking about long term success. If you wipe out folks with too much with high intensity work – this CAN reduce NEAT and over long term can actually inhibit weight loss – appropriate stress exposure is always paramount.
NEAT plays a critical role in weight loss / management. It rarely comes down to having a ‘slow’ or ‘fast’ metabolism and it is massively important to look at strategies to improve NEAT levels in individuals.
Structured training helps but it is the small amounts of calories burned CONSISTENTLY day after day, month after month and year after year that will ensure long term success. Merge appropriate training stress, calorie intake and being conscious to keep NEAT levels high and you will have a formidable plan for fat loss success long term!
Before I finish up, here is a breakdown of BMR, TEF and NEAT in active and sedentary individuals on a typical day…
- BMR 60%
- Physical Activity 32% (exercise + NEAT)
- TEF 8%
- BMR 75%
- Physical Activity 17% (NEAT)
- TEF 8%