Get A Move On - The NEAT Way!

By Kimberly Dawn Neumann

May 9, 2005

Turns out that having ants in your pants may actually help those pants fit better. It’s called Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, or NEAT, and it could play an important role in weight management.

Research done by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota suggests that an individual’s NEAT level (the number of extra calories burned through non- exercise activities such as toe-tapping or flipping your hair) is a major factor in obesity.

The Mayo Clinic study monitored the movements of 10 obese and 10 lean self-proclaimed “couch potatoes” for 10 days. It was determined that the obese individuals sat, on average, 150 minutes longer each day (and thus naturally burned 350 fewer calories) than their lean counterparts.

Low Metabolism, Low NEAT
“Our patients have told us for years that they have low metabolism, and we have never quite understood what that means – until today,” says James Levine, MD, the Mayo Clinic endocrinologist who led the study. “The answer is they have low NEAT, which means they have a biological need to sit more.”

While Levine says a low NEAT level most likely reflects a brain chemical difference, individuals can learn to “up” their NEAT level. “The essence is that if we change our response to our environment, we can change our NEAT,” he says. “A person can expend calories either by going to the gym, or through everyday activities. Our study shows that the calories burned in everyday activities are far, far more important in obesity than we previously imagined.”

Levine has his computer workstation attached to a treadmill, so he can walk while working. He even keeps his phone in his desk, requiring him to reach when it rings. “Use your creativity when looking for ways to overhaul your daily NEAT expenditure,” encourages Levine. “It’s unlimited and will lead to success.”

Give Yourself a Boost
According to Levine, overweight individuals tend to think about their weight and dieting five times per hour. A better use of mental energy? Think of ways to boost your NEAT instead. For example:

Before breakfast, make yourself vacuum one room in the house.

While your coffee is percolating, turn on the radio and do a dance to your favorite music.

Stretch in the car while stuck in traffic. Park in the furthest space when you put your car in a lot.

Try to schedule "walking meetings" as opposed to the conventional sit-down kind. Studies show that meetings are shorter and more productive if participants have to literally think on their feet.

Work from home or have kids? Plan a lunchtime excursion every day.

Never sit while on the phone. Get a cordless or a long extension cord and stand or pace while you chat.

If TV is your decompress time at night, only allow yourself to watch if you’ve taken a walk beforehand. Or move around the room during commercials. And always get up to change the channel.

If you’re still stationary at your computer while reading this, stand up and sit down five times and boost your NEAT level right now!

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