Calorie-counters and gym junkies alike generally have a baseline understanding of how many calories different exercises can burn, what various levels of intensity feel like, and what to expect from a body that’s in a calorie deficit rather than a calorie surplus.
But in reality, the body is always burning calories, no matter what you’re doing.
Taking a nap? Burning calories. Digesting dinner? Burning calories. Meditating or staring out into the immeasurable distance and thinking thoughts? Burning calories. Walking up the stairs to make coffee? Burning calories.
It’s actually a medical phenomenon known as non-exercise activity thermogenesis – or NEAT.
Those are a lot of words – let’s break it down.
Thermogenesis is the spread and use of energy caused by the production of heat in the body. The more calories you burn, the more heat you produce.
NEAT has a cousin – EAT. EAT is exercise activity thermogenesis. When you’re at the gym, or on a run, or working hard at a construction site, you’re burning calories through EAT.
NEAT can actually account for a bunch of your daily calories burned. For example, depending on your weight, you might burn 95 calories an hour during sleep. Cooking a meal can burn between 200 and 300 calories per hour. Carrying the shopping up the stairs? More than 400 calories an hour! (Not that you’d be doing it for an hour, but you get it.)
Even just sitting for an hour burns upwards of 60 calories.
Now, exercise is vital. Humans are not sedentary beasts. The functionality of our intricate and miraculous bodies depends heavily on our commitment to movement – without it, things start to fall apart.
NEAT and EAT are symbiotic – they help each other.
So while you’re encouraged to increase your EAT – especially when trying to lose weight – we sometimes forget that increasing your NEAT is just as important.
Here are some of the best ways to increase your NEAT to complement your EAT, activating your muscle mass more throughout the day than you would have simply hitting the gym for an hour.
(Keep in mind that for weight loss, you want to be in a calorie deficit of about 500 calories per day. Over seven days, that turns into 3500 – about one pound lost per week.)
Walk Whenever You Can
It may seem obvious, but think about walking within the context of your daily life, not in terms of “taking a walk.”
How much of the way you live is designed to help you sit more? Do you have your lights programmed to be controlled by your phone? How often do you opt for delivery rather than take out? Do you tend to ask someone who’s already up to get you something rather than straighten your knees and get it yourself?
All of this activity adds up.
Consider being the person who’s asked to get something more often than not, volunteering to grab things from upstairs and around the house as needed, and not pawning off yard work because you’re tired.
Get up to turn off the lights. Take a lap around the room when you refill your water. Walk to the restaurant you wanted to get food from. Run errands the old-fashioned way – stopping by several stores to get what you need instead of ordering it all online.
Utilize TV Time Wisely
We can talk forever about how to decrease screen time and return to nature, but the reality of modern life is that TV factors into how we spend our time.
So make the most of it!
Instead of sitting for hours in front of the TV, stretch! Do yoga poses. Lie on the floor and extend each muscle group.
Do it for the entirety of an episode. Keep your body engaged.
Spend One Day Per Week on Chores
A lot of us have either automated our chores, outsourced them, or (let’s face it) aren’t doing them with regularity.
When was the last time you dusted? Or scrubbed the bathroom floor? Or mowed your own lawn?
Just like when you were a little kid, restrict yourself from “having fun” on a Saturday until you’ve done your chores. Except you’re an adult now, so you can make doing chores as fun as you want to!
Clean the baseboards, weed whack the lawn, reorganize your cabinets – you’re burning calories!
Cook More Meals at Home
Have you ever thought about the movement involved in cooking dinner?
Trimming fat, chopping vegetables, standing the whole time, traveling across the kitchen from spice rack to stove to fridge, to kneeling and lifting and sauteing…
It’s basically a triathlon. Challenge yourself to cook with fresh, organic veggies, make dishes that require longer cooking times, or experimenting with cuisines that require complex attention.
Any activity that increases your body movement without “intending” to (like exercise) increases your NEAT, which increases your overall calories burned, which aids in the speed and efficiency of your metabolism…
And on and on.
The NEATer your body is the tidier your life is!