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Are you an inactive active person?

Increase your NEAT
October 24, 2017
By Erin O’Loughlin

Many of us plan to include exercise sessions within our weekly schedules. Whether it is hitting up that barre or yoga class, playing a team sport or following a weight training program, planned exercise helps us attain our physical and mental health goals and to meet the physical activity guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week (Link for guidelines).

Kudos that we are as active as we can be

However, are we paying enough attention to how often we are moving (or NOT) during the day, aside from our planned exercise? Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) is the energy expended for everything that we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise. It ranges from the energy expended walking to working, sitting, yard work and fidgeting.

NEAT activity is super important, especially among those who don’t do any planned exercise, which is approximately 85% of Canadian adults. These people usually do not meet the current physical activity guidelines, which place them at risk for numerous health issues. If two adults of the same sex are similar in height, weight, muscle mass, calorie intake, etc. but one accumulates more minutes of NEAT in their day, they tend to weigh less and have better health.

People who accumulate more NEAT are also less sedentary

Canadians sit up to 11 hours a day, and more and more research is emerging on the dangers of sedentary behaviour, regardless of planned exercise and meeting physical activity guidelines. Being too sedentary may increase the risk of certain cancers and cardiovascular diseases, contribute to anxiety and depression; and cause a decrease in skeletal muscle mass, among others. Even if you are getting the benefits of being active, you may still be at risk for the effects of too much sedentary time.

How do you increase NEAT?

There are many ways to increase NEAT throughout your day. The hardest part about NEAT is changing habits that have become ingrained. Increasing NEAT takes conscious effort and work, but eventually will become second nature and a worthwhile endeavour.

To increase my NEAT, I use a fitbit that vibrates when I have been sitting for too long. After sitting for an hour or two, it signals to me that it is to get up and move for at least two minutes. This works for me, but here are some tips and links which may work for you:

1. Set a reminder to get up every hour from your desk

2. Sit on an exercise ball when you are working

3. Park further away and don’t use the elevator. I know you’re have heard that advice before but these choices increase NEAT!

4. Walk anywhere you can, instead of taking the metro or car

5. Stretch while watching TV

Increasing your NEAT activity isn’t about losing weight or relying on it to be healthy, but it is a “piece of the pie” for all-around better health, in addition to planned exercise, eating well, managing stress and sleeping (four health habit pillar). For me, of the four pillars, increasing NEAT is fairly simple and doesn’t require as much effort. It may be a perfect first step to take in bettering your health. It is best to target one area (pillar) at a time in order to sustain behaviour change. If not, it may just be too overwhelming.

Here are some great resources on how to increase your NEAT activity:

Ressource 1

Ressource 2

Ressource 3

About the author

Erin O’Loughlin is a certified personal trainer, pre-post natal and Barre fitness instructor. She is also a research coordinator at the CRCHUM working on the project AdoQuest, whose main objective is to determine the extent of co-occurrence of modifiable lifestyle behaviors among youth along the life course. 

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