How to Get More NEAT in Your Life

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be doing a workshop at the Governor’s Safety Conference on sitting. Yup, sitting. Sound interesting, doesn’t it?! Well, if it doesn’t directly, that’s okay. However, it should interesting to everybody as this is what is causing or contributing to most of the health problems in our community today.


And while I’d love to go over the workshop with you (I don’t want to give away all of the good stuff in one article), I specifically want to hit on one particular point that goes against what most people would believe is “common knowledge” (word to the wise, if most people belief it to be true, it’s time to be skeptical).


But, before we get to that point, let’s start from the beginning. And that’s understanding energy expenditure in everyday life…


How We Expend Energy Throughout the Day


Very rarely do we take the time to look at where we are actually spending our energy. And, no, I don’t mean mental energy or emotional energy (although, I don’t not mean those things…). I literally mean energy…calories. Your body is constantly burning calories throughout the day, whether you’re sitting, sleeping, eating, or playing. Actually, there are only 3 ways in which your body burns calories, in which all of these activities can fit into one of them:


#1) Metabolism


Okay, metabolism is a simplistic way to put this idea. What I really mean here is Resting Metabolic Rate or RMR. Your RMR is what most people talk about when they say they want to increase their metabolism. RMR is simply the amount of energy (calories) your body burns at rest. There are many things that impact your RMR, but high up on the list how much lean mass you. So the more muscle you have, the more calories your body will burn while you’re doing nothing.


RMR accounts for approximately 60% of your daily energy expenditure.


#2) Food


Yes, when you eat food, you burn calories. It seems counter-intuitive, but it happens. This is called the thermogenesis of food. Different foods have different thermic effects (burn more or less calories). For instance, protein has the highest thermic effect on the body, followed by carbs, and finally fats. This is (partly) why most fat loss diets recommend high protein.


Thermogenesis of food accounts for approximately 10% of your daily energy expenditure.


#3) Activity


Activity accounts for the remaining 30% of our daily energy expenditure. This one seems to be mostly self-explanatory. However, in the beginning of the article, I mentioned a bit of common-knowledge that I was going to fight against. Well, this is where I start to build my fortress. Activity (or activity thermogenesis as it’s known) can account for an energy-expenditure difference of about 2000 calories. Which means, if we measured the daily calorie burn of 2 people of the same weight and muscle mass, the difference could be as much as 2000 calories. Activity can be divided into 2 categories. Each category is important in and of itself. However, when it comes to calorie burning, one category far outweighs the other:



At this point, everyone understands what exercise is, but I want to make sure we make the distinction. Exercise is literally defined as “activity requiring physical effort, carried out especially to sustain or improve health and fitness” (thank you Google). So exercise is something that you’re doing ON PURPOSE to improve your health and fitness. On purpose is the important distinction here.



So, if exercise thermogenesis accounts for the calories we’re burning on purpose, to achieve greater vitality, then NEAT accounts for everything else we’re doing throughout the day. This includes, but is not limited to, doing laundry, cutting grass, taking the dogs for a walk, cleaning the house, manual labor, etc.


Before I listed the 2 types of activity (exercise and NEAT), I mentioned that this overall category can account for a difference of 2000 calories burned within a day. That seems like a big difference, maybe big enough to have an impact of our fat storage and overall energy levels. And, although that number itself may not surprise you, what may surprise you is what will have the biggest impact on reducing that deficit.


How to Eliminate the 2000 Calorie Deficit


Let’s say the average person works out about 60 minutes each time the workout. Their workout could be running or resistance training or pilates. And let’s say the average person workouts about 3 days a week (I’m being VERY generous here. The national average for people who exercise regularly is under 50%, and regularly for the government is defined as less than 2 days a week). And, finally, let’s say, on average, we burn about 12 calories per minute of exercise (assuming most people are doing moderate to low-moderate intensity exercise). That’s 720 per workout, times 3 workouts, or 2160 calories per week, on average, that someone might be burning during a workout. Spread that over 7 days and your talking about a difference of less than 310 calories per day.


So, if exercise is only accounting for about 300 calories of our 2000 calorie daily deficit, that only leaves one category that account for the other 1700 calories, and that’s NEAT.


Building up your NEAT is imperative to you overall health and longevity. And, to do so, you need to look at the you movement on a micro level, not a macro level. As Gray Cook says, “Move well. Move often”. We’ve been slammed so much over the years about getting 30 minutes or 60 minutes of exercise a day that we overlook where we might make the biggest impact. Now, don’t get me wrong. Daily exercise is absolutely imperative for ultimate vitality. We just need to add regular movement throughout the day to truly start to counteract the effects of our sedentary lifestyles.


The simplest way to add movement into your day is by setting an alarm. The alarm should go off every 30 minutes. And when the alarm goes off, you should get up and move around for 3-5 minutes. So you’re about a minute for every 10 minutes of sitting. It’s important to break it apart in these segments because your body needs regular movement, not just one big lump sum. And don’t tell me you don’t have time to do this. Most of us spend this much time on Facebook or Twitter or Texting or Emailing or catching up on the news.


It’s up for you to decide to prioritize your health and vitality over keeping up with the Jones’s. Move often and you’ll start to see a drastic increase in your energy. And, of course, you will improve your likelihood of achieving your ultimate goal, of living as long and well as you can.

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Jerry Scarlato
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Jerry Scarlato

Owner, Fitness Coach at Thrive Fitness
Jerry Scarlato is a Personal Trainer and Entrepreneur who lives in Northern Kentucky. He runs 2 businesses related to health and wellness: Thrive Fitness and Thrive Online. Jerry has been involved in the fitness for his entire adult life, including playing sports through college. Along with being an Entrepreneur, Jerry is a content creator,
Jerry Scarlato
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