Let me explain the “non-exercise” exercise

By Olivia C. Rossi, RN, MSN, ACSM
Your Personal Trainer,

Did you know that doing NEAT things can help you to lose and maintain your weight?  NEAT, “Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, refers to the calories you burn doing everything that isn’t going to the gym, sleeping or eating.  Life impacts NEAT and NEAT impacts life.”–James Levine, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Medicine, Mayo Clinic.  The word thermogenesis literally means the production of heat, especially by the cells of the body. It’s burning calories.  NEAT burns more calories than exercise in most non-athletes.

How does life impact NEAT?  Life has lessened the need for non-exercise related activities.  We drive more, we walk less.  We sit more, we move less. Environmental factors have affected NEAT.  We have elevators, on-line shopping and drive-through eateries.   Our decreased activity levels necessitate that we take active steps to improve our own health, fitness and well-being.  One obvious way to do that is by exercising regularly, three to five days a week doing at least 30-minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity which includes brisk walking, swimming, jogging, cycling, running, using machines at the gym or at home such as a treadmill, elliptical trainer or a rower.  Is that enough?  It meets the current guidelines for exercise but it doesn’t eradicate the need for additional physical activity to help counteract a sedentary job, a long drive and accompanying low energy levels due to sitting all day.

Conversely, how does NEAT impact life?  If you’re having trouble finding ways to be more active, can you find ways to be less sedentary?  That’s where NEAT comes in.  We need to take a personal role in finding ways to be more active everyday, not only on our exercise days.  Let’s face it, exercise is not NEAT!  I can’t believe I said that!  You know what I mean!  Non-exercise activities will add to your overall fitness even if you haven’t started your regular exercise program yet.  Some suggestions for being less sedentary are well-known such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator but what about standing up at your computer at work instead of sitting, walking while talking on the phone–cell phones have done their part–or holding a walking meeting.  Designate ten minutes of your lunch break to taking a walk.  If you are at the gym watching your child play basketball or at the track for a meet, get up and walk around during breaks in the event.  Look for opportunities to move.

NEAT includes activities that are physical but do not rise to the level of exercise.  Each small increase in your activity level and decrease in your sedentary level add up to a higher level of thermogenesis, or calorie burning.  You can impact your life by controlling your own level of non-exercise activities.  Get off your seat and on your feet with NEAT!  Be as creative and innovative as you can be.  Someone was.  Have you seen the new work stations that have a keyboard on a treadmill?  Instead of sitting at your desk all day you can walk at a very slow pace . . . a workmill.  Now that’s taking NEAT-ness to a whole new level!  NEAT is a good habit to adopt.  Make it part of your day along with healthy eating and a regular exercise program.  Become a NEAT-nick!

Yours in fitness,

Olivia C. Rossi, RN, MSN
Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist, ACSM
Certified Personal Trainer, ACSM