Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT).
But what is it?
NEAT refers to the energy we expend when not engaging in planned activity (planned activity being the gym, going for a run, eating and sleeping). Essentially, NEAT refers to the energy we expend on movement that is not planned, such as walking, fidgeting, talking, working etc. NEAT is a measure of your non-resting energy needs. It is extremely hard to measure with an exact calorie burning figure as your activity varies on a daily basis. You can imagine just how hard it would be to keep track of every single minor movement, detail, word spoken, etc.
Everybody has different NEAT levels and it can vary as much as 2000 kcals between two individuals of the same size. For example, manual workers, and those with physically demanding roles, have high NEAT. In comparison, a person with a desk job would typically have a lower NEAT. But, it’s not just your job and home routine that play a role, genetic factors also contribute to your energy burned.
These differences are related to complex interactions of environmental and biological factors, influenced by people’s different occupations and leisure-time activities, as well as molecular and individual genetic factors. …targeting NEAT with an intervention could be an essential tool for body weight control.Christian von Loeffelholz, M.D. and Andreas Birkenfeld from The Role of Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis in Human Obesity
It’s also interesting to note that NEAT is influenced with changes to our energy balance (amount and types of food you eat); NEAT appears to increase when we over eat and decreases when we under eat – although this is highly variable between individuals. So, think of a big lunch, you may need a nap, or you may feel like your ready to get going, at 100%, full-speed ahead! This may also help to explain why some people struggle to lose weight, compared to others. Although it is difficult to exactly match our NEAT levels every day, we can keep it constant to a degree – we can track our steps.
Among other methods, tracking steps allows us to quantify a consistent measure that will contribute to our weight loss. Yes, by tracking your daily steps, and maintaining a certain daily target throughout the week, you are supporting your body’s NEAT levels to remain a, somewhat, constant. This constant, when coupled with a calorie deficit and exercise routine, will give you control of another variable (your NEAT/steps) that will boost your efforts at dropping the pounds. Let me explain:
Example: Jane is dieting down and would like to lose 3 lbs of weight. Jane is eating and tracking 2100 Kcal per day and exercising 4 days a week. Jane will track her steps on her Fitbit.
Week 1 steps average: 2017 steps per day. loss: 0.4lbs
Week 2 steps average: 5017 steps per day. loss: 1.0lbs
Week 3 steps average: 617 steps per day. loss: +0.1lbs
If we want to track NEAT and control all the variables, to give us fast and efficient results, we will control the daily steps. Notice how the steps varied from week-to-week and so did the weight-loss? If Jane had maintained 5000 steps p/day for 3 weeks the weight loss may look substantially different and more consistent. Without tracking Jane may suspect her metabolism to be the issue and not her daily activity.
Should I track my steps?
As mentioned earlier, outside of planned exercise and counting calories, steps and irregular activity contributes to energy burned via the body. NEAT (irregular daily energy burned) can vary drastically depending on our daily activity of walking, talking, speaking, fidgeting etc. If we can control an amount of that activity, and keep it consistent, we have a better understanding of where our body is at in the weight loss process. We can quantify all of our actions and make adjustments to either our calories, exercise or steps – you choose which.
Example: If you do not lose weight on a consistent 1800kcal per day, 3x gym per week and 5000 step average you have options to improve your weight-loss.
-You can decrease cals, or;
-You can increase the exercise average from 3 to 4 days per week, or;
-You increase your daily steps average.
-You can also do all 3 at once, however this would leave little room to increase again in the near future.
So, full circle, should you track your steps? If you want to control all elements of your weight loss diet, YES! The good news is that mobile apps and pedometers, or smartwatches, count all the steps for you, so it’s minimal hassle on your end. If, however, you have a regular routine and your very content in not tracking, that’s fine too! It’s not be all and end all to track your steps. Perhaps you’re just a little more conscious of your inactivity and you choose to move a little more, park the car further away, dance a little longer etc.
Personally, I love the numbers and, not like i’m control freak or anything, I like to know exactly where my body is at with certain stages and to, well.., control them haha. I’ll show you why I find it important to track. Recently, in my preparation for a bodybuilding contest (that didn’t happen), I lost 1.3lbs in a week period on 1911 Kcal average, 4 days gym per week, 50 mins of planned cardio and 5262 step average. The following week I lost 2.1lbs (0.8lbs more than last week) on 1910 Kcal average (same), 3 days gym (1 session less), 60 mins of planned cardio (10 mins more) and 7459 step average (nearly 2200 steps more daily). That’s an increase of only 10 mins cardio total and approximately 20 mins daily walking. I have found tracking my steps to be a very useful tool for weight-loss.
Side note: My body is quite inefficient at storing fat so any extra activity is burned up quick – hence the extra steps and loss in weight.
What would I recommend?
Start tracking a normal week. From there I would try to increase your average steps by 1000 daily (1000 steps equate to approx. 10 mins walking for me). If you have some spare leisure time set yourself a bigger target. I will mention this, you don’t want to start out all Gung Ho. This gives you no room for improvement. Look at a realistic changes, small increments, then aim to increase periodically as your diet develops. You want room for improvement because as you progress on your diet you will want to increase your daily step or gym activity, not cut more food out of your diet.
week 1: 4000 steps average.
Week 2: 4500 steps average.
Week 3: 4500 steps average.
Week 4: 5000 steps average. etc.
A lot of people recommend 10’000 steps per day and that’s generally unrealistic for most. For others it’s no problem, and maybe a little light. It’s all relative to your needs. Typically, individuals that are bouncing of the wall with high energy tend to be relatively thin – this is due their copious amounts of energy and movement via fidgeting, stressing, running or pacing etc. Again, best advice i’d give is to track an average week and then set your realistic target from there.
Here is an old picture of my steps tracked via the Health App on my Iphone. It’s not 100% accurate, as my phone is not always on my person, but I like to keep it as a constant regardless and use it as a measure from week to week:
I hope this article has helped shed a little light on NEAT, specifically the importance of steps, and why it’s helpful to track your steps when looking to lose weight. If you like what you’ve read please let me know, or share this post. Additionally, if you have any comments please leave a message down below.