Activity is NEAT

What’s the key to weight loss? Hands down the crown belongs to nutrition! After that, you might be surprised to learn that it’s not necessarily exercise, but it IS activity, and there is a difference.

Let’s make it very clear here, we are NOT suggesting you skip out on exercise (the benefits are huge and extend far beyond weight loss), we’re simply saying that what you do in the kitchen (what and how much you eat) and general movement/activity throughout your day has a far greater impact on caloric intake and expenditure than your 30-60 minutes/day (if you’re even that consistent!) of focused exercise.

The concept is called NEAT.  NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (fancy, huh?). What all that fancy talk is referring to is all of the calories your body expends throughout the day a) existing (the energy cost of just being alive, sometimes called Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR)) and b) doing activities that are not specifically sleeping, eating, or exercising. Think activities such as housework, grocery shopping, walking to the copy machine at work, or maybe even any type of labor you do as part of your job (are you a server – on your feet all day? work construction or landscaping?).

In short, all of your general daily activities!

Let’s look at an example, that may help clarify:

Jenny is a 40 year old woman who is 5’6 and weighs 200 pounds, and like most of us, her job determines her typical level of daily activity.

a) If Jenny has a desk job (sitting all day) and performs no specific exercise, she burns approximately 1975 calories / day just being alive and sitting at her desk throughout most of the day.

b) If Jenny has a desk job (sitting all day) and performs 30 minutes/day of a moderately paced elliptical workout, she burns approximately 2275 calories / day (+300 calories, nice!)

c) If Jenny has a lightly active job (on feet for light office work or leisurely walking throughout the day) and performs no specific exercise, she burns approximately 2470 calories/ day (+495 calories!)

Which Jenny would you rather be?

Now we can hear you saying, But I don’t have a job where I’m on my feet/I sit at a desk all day! Welcome to the club – you’re not alone! It takes some attention and intention, but you can change your level of daily activity with time.

With the help of a pedometer or other activity tracking device, intentionally and incrementally add movement into your day. Try for 500 more steps/day on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, by taking heed of all those tips you’ve probably dismissed in the past: take the stairs, pace on conference calls, get a treadmill desk, park further away, take a short walk break at lunch, etc.

Once you get moving, make it a game for yourself (we LOVE games at HealthyWage!) and aim for these big milestones: 5,000 steps/day (equivalent of walking about 2.5 miles), 7,500 steps/day (3.5 miles), 10,000 steps/day (5 miles).

Once you’ve built a solid habit of more activity into your daily life (~7,500 steps/day), then consider slowly adding in some specific exercise to help you on your way.