Don Graham, head of fitness coaching at Goal Master Fitness, explains how you can burn more calories without even realising it.
First of all, what is NEAT?
Your energy balance is the balance between the energy (calories) you consume and the energy (calories) you expend. Weight gain occurs when consumption exceeds expenditure. Weight loss occurs when expenditure exceeds consumption. It’s really that simple.
Let’s talk about energy expenditure and some common misconceptions. Some people believe that an hour a day on a treadmill is the best way to lose weight. There is no doubt that an hour on a treadmill will burn calories (on average, 500 to 750 calories depending primarily on your weight and the intensity of exercise).
But, for most people, spending an hour on a treadmill is tedious, unpleasant, boring and difficult. And, most people overestimate the number of calories they burn performing intentional exercise.
For most people, 70 per cent or more of the calories burned each day are the calories burned at rest, up to 10 per cent of the calories we burn is the thermic effect of food (or TEF), and people who exercise actively typically do not burn more than 10 per cent of their daily calories performing intentional exercise.
So where is the missing 10 or 20 per cent? It’s what we call NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis). They are the calories that we burn from activity other than intentional exercise.
For most people, this is the largest part of their daily activity – and the easiest type of activity to increase.
So why is NEAT neat? Because for most people, if you want to increase the energy you expend (the calories you burn), it is physically and psychologically easier to increase NEAT than to jump on a treadmill. NEAT can add up quickly.
1. Climb every mountain
Well, by mountains, I mean buildings and by climbing, I mean take the stairs not the lift. Yes, you’ve heard this one before, but have you actually committed to it? Climbing just two flights of stairs burns between five to ten calories depending on your weight, speed and the number of stairs per flight.
Make this relatively tiny effort every day and, all things being equal (being at a steady weight, no increase or decrease in calorie intake or expenditure elsewhere), it could result in a pound of fat loss in a year’s time.
Now imagine how much you could lose if you use stairs instead of lifts all the time.
2. Delay your gratification
Getting off public transport one stop earlier to walk the remaining distance may delay your commute but it’ll expedite your fitness journey.
Yes, like taking the stairs, this is another old chestnut, but they both actually work. This is because instead of requiring you to take up a completely new activity, they combine something you already do with something you don’t. This makes embedding a new habit much more likely to happen.
3. Don’t skip the adult activities – and don’t rush them
Contrary to international belief, the British do, on occasion, indulge in copulation. But, perhaps not often enough?
If all is well with libido and sexual performance, making quality time for intimacy with your partner is the ultimate way to increase NEAT.
And it’s arguably even more fun than taking the stairs.
4. Start a fantasy footstep league
Like Fantasy Football, only you’ll actually be doing the physical work, not relying on sports people to do it for you.
FitBit and other wrist-worn activity trackers have the ability to create step challenges with colleagues, friends and family. By adding a healthy dose of competition, you can create interest where none previously existed.
The accountability of others being able to see how many steps you’re clocking up will literally keep you on your toes. There can be prizes. There can be fundraising. Whatever you can do to make it fun and meaningful, the better.
What’s more, you’ll be part of a likeminded, NEAT community. In fact, studies have found that community-led intervention can be a highly effective method for creating habit change.
You’ll also be doing your bit to promote an active culture within your sphere of influence. It’s a win win win win.
5. Follow the ‘is driving really necessary?’ rule
The temptation to ‘just take the car’ can be impossible to resist. If you’re pushed for time, doing so to complete a walking distance journey is fully justified. But if you’re not, there’s no excuse!
Those steps will do you a world of good and anything we can do to cut down on carbon emissions does the world good.
Environmental concerns aside, ruthless honesty when asking if you need to use your car instead of your feet is another highly effective way to burn more calories and get your body in motion.
Small, consistent efforts – they all add up.