In 2020 the world came to a halt and people stayed inside their homes to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Many jobs shifted to work-from-home and schools around the world transitioned to virtual learning. Gyms, parks and outdoor recreation areas also closed for a number of months limiting the ability to experience exercise outside of the home. As a result, we sat, a lot. Up to four more hours per day than before COVID-19 shutdowns.
It’s known that a sedentary lifestyle can lead to a host of physical and mental health problems including Type 2 Diabetes, depression, and heart disease. But prolonged inactivity, like what most of us experienced in 2020, can lead to back and neck pain, loss of muscle mass, and an increased risk of injuries. Combine that with more frequent trips to the pantry or fridge during the lockdown and it can result in unwanted weight gain.
As the world emerges from COVID restrictions, many people will still work, go to school, and enjoy life from home at their desk, on the couch, or around the kitchen table. So it is more important than ever to find ways to add more movement to your day and combat the effects of a sedentary lifestyle.
The good news is that movement doesn’t always mean an hour-long sweat-inducing workout that requires a change of clothes and a trip to the gym. It can be as simple as walking the dog, playing with your kids, or tidying up the kitchen. It’s the everyday NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) movement that can help us burn calories, keep our joints and muscles flexible and fend off some of the pitfalls of sitting all day.
Before discussing NEAT and how to get more of it, it’s important to understand how the body burns calories or energy. While everyone is unique, it’s widely accepted that a person’s basal metabolic rate (BMR) burns the majority of their calories. BMR is simply the amount of energy it takes to keep the body alive and functioning, and it accounts for about 60-75% of the calories burned per day. The thermic effect of food (TEF) which is the energy needed to digest and absorb food consumed, is another source of caloric burn and can account for approximately 10% of the body’s metabolism.
The remainder of a person’s calories burned come from activity -- both scheduled exercise like running, cycling, fitness classes at the gym, and NEAT which can contribute up to 15-30% of a person’s daily caloric burn.
The Power of NEAT
To demonstrate the power of NEAT, take the example of a 40-year-old woman who weighs 150 lbs. In a single 45-minute spin class she may burn up to 425 calories. If the same woman walks her dog for 15 minutes (42 calories), leisurely plays basketball with her child after dinner for 30 minutes (127 calories), and does some light cleaning around the house for 15 minutes (30 calories) she can burn about 200 additional calories.
For someone who is actively trying to lose weight, her total calories expended would be over the 500 that is recommended per day to safely lose 1 pound per week. In addition, she’s participating in functional activities that incorporate movements like pushing, pulling, bending, and twisting which improve strength, balance, and flexibility. Not to mention the benefits she receives from being outside, interacting with her family, and breaking up what could be a long day working from home or supervising remote learning with the kids.
Other NEAT ideas include:
- Do a few flights at home in between video calls.
- Alternate between sitting on an office chair and a stability ball.
- Stand while you work.
- Pace around your home while on a conference call (be careful not to get breathless).
In addition to the added calories burned, NEAT keeps your body moving in a way that can help prevent dangerous chronic diseases, improve quality and longevity of life as well as mental health. Knowing that the extra things we do daily may help us live longer and healthier makes NEAT a really neat idea.