When you break it down at the most fundamental level, weight loss equals your body burning more calories than you take in. And if you’re on a weight-loss mission, you’re probably doing whatever it takes to burn those calories, like working out more, walking instead of driving when possible, or squeezing a few more reps into your lifting sessions.
“In order to lose weight, you need to either eat fewer calories or perform more calorie-burning activities throughout your day,” says Dr. Grayson Wickham P.T., D.P.T., C.S.C.S., founder of flexibility and mobility platform Movement Vault.
As a result, metabolism is often a key part of any conversation—and certain contributors to your metabolism make a major difference in your results. One of these? NEAT. Here’s what you need to know about NEAT, your metabolism, and weight loss.
Breaking Down Metabolism
“Metabolism is the umbrella term used to describe how your body ‘burns calories’ or converts the calories in food to usable energy in your cells,” says Jessie Dwiggins, M.S., RYT-200
Your overall metabolism (or energy production) throughout the day is made up of a few components
BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate): This is the baseline amount of calories your body needs to carry out all the important functions it does while at rest. “Quite simply, BMR is the amount of calories needed to keep you living and thriving without even moving,” says Wickham. Think of it as the energy you’d need to sleep all day
TEF (Thermic Effect of Food): “Your body has to use calories to digest and absorb the energy and nutrients from the food you eat, and this is called the Thermic Effect of Food,” says Dwiggins. “Approximately 10 percent of the calories you consume are used to metabolize other foods.”
EAT (Exercise Activity Thermogenesis): “EAT is the number of calories burned during your workouts, or during your recovery from a workout,” says Wickham. Physical activity increases how much energy you use, so the more physical activity you include in your day, the more calories you’ll need to eat to meet your energy requirements
NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis): “NEAT is the number of calories or energy expended for all activities that you perform outside of your workouts, sleeping, and eating,” says Wickham. This bucket accounts for hobbies, play, and anything that’s not a formal workout but involves moving. Think riding your bike with your kids, playing with your dog, or doing yard work.
NEAT And Your Overall Metabolism
Ultimately, NEAT can make a significant impact on your total calorie expenditure and calorie burn throughout your day due to the fact you are adding in movement during times that you were most likely not moving.
“Simply adding in small amounts of movements or making a movement you already perform in your day-to-day life more challenging increases your total caloric burn for that day,” Wickham says.
Read More: How Much Do Genetics Affect Your Metabolism?
Though many people simply focus on workouts (and EAT) when they want to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, adding more general movement into your day (and boosting your NEAT), can make the most notable difference over time.
“When we look at the evolution of humans, we have always had to move in order to survive. Fast forward to today and most people don’t move enough throughout the day,” says Wickham. This means we burn fewer calories and are more likely to gain weight, which increases the likelihood of health concerns.
9 Ways To Boost Your NEAT
Burn more calories throughout your day without having to make any significant changes or push yourself to work out hard? Sign us up! Here are nine easy ways to incorporate more natural movement into your day—and reap the rewards.
1. Get a standing desk (and use it)
If you sit at a desk all day, consider investing in an adjustable workstation so that you can incorporate more standing.
“Standing still in a normal standing position while working does burn more calories than sitting still,” Wickham says. “I recommend standing while working because it allows you to switch up your standing position easier than it would be to switch up your sitting position.” Hey, any movement counts
If you are new to standing while working, start with standing for 10 minutes out of every hour, then sitting for the other 50 minutes. “Slowly build up your capacity for standing for long periods of time to ensure that you don’t experience pain while standing for long periods of time,” Wickham says.
From there, add five minutes of standing time to every hour each week until you’ve found a balance that feels good for you. “This could be standing for the full hour or standing for 30 minutes and sitting for 30 minutes,” Wickham suggests.
Within your standing time, vary your position every five to 10 minutes to reap the most NEAT benefits. This increases the demand on your lower body and core muscles, which helps you burn more calories. “[Positions] can include standing with your feet together, standing with your feet wide apart, standing with one foot in front of the other, and standing on just one foot,” says Wickham.
2. Walk your dog at a faster pace
Increasing the speed you walk your dog at will help you get in more steps, walk a greater distance, and burn more calories in the same period of time.
“This is a simple way to boost your NEAT without any added time commitment,” Wickham says.
3. Carry your groceries to your car instead of using a shopping cart
After you finish checking out at the grocery store, carry all of your bags to your car to increase the demand on all of your muscles, including your core, shoulder, and legs
“This increased muscle demand during your walk to your car will then burn more muscles and potentially get you stronger over time,” says Wickham.
4. Catch your ride from a few blocks away
The next time you call an Uber or get picked up by friends or family, mark your pickup location a few blocks away from where you’re currently at.
“This will force you to walk a few extra blocks,” Wickham says. “These increased steps during your walk will then burn more calories and thus boost your NEAT.”
5. Skip the Flat Escalators at airports
The next time you fly, schedule yourself a little extra time so that you can walk the entire way to your departure gate instead of using those automatic walkways, suggests Wickham. Getting those extra steps in really makes a difference.
6. Get moving while waiting for someone or something
Next time you find yourself waiting for your oven to preheat, your kids to be ready for school, or whatever, pass the time with some type of movement.
“Any type of movement will burn more calories than just sitting there,” says Wickham. “Some options can include jumping up and down, performing mini-squats, walking, performing jumping jacks, moving your arms up and down, and marching in place.”
7. Park farther away
Instead of finding a parking spot as close to your destination as possible, park in the far back corner of the parking lot, around the corner, or somewhere that ensures you have to move your body to get there.
“This forces you to walk more in order to get to the entrance,” says Wickham. “If you do this with every place that you go to in a day, these extra steps will add up, equaling more movement, more muscle contractions, and more calories burned.”
8. Take frequent work breaks
“When you’re stuck on a project problem at your computer, get up and walk around or walk to a window and look at the farthest point you can see,” suggests Dwiggins. “Stepping away from the problem may give you clarity and will introduce a little movement. Looking out a window also shifts your vision from focal to panoramic, which signals your nervous system to relax.”
9. Opt for the stairs
Walking up and down stairs not only increases the number of steps you take in a day, but it also increases the work your leg muscles have to do.
“Walking up and down steps is more demanding on your muscles than simply walking on flat ground,” says Wickham. “It increases the amount that your quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteus muscles (some of the biggest muscle groups in your body) have to work. This increase in muscle demand equals an increase in overall calories burned.”