NEAT CleaningAre your clients getting bored with endless treadmill sessions, stationary cycles, or counting Stairmaster steps? Or maybe they are so fixated on how many calories they burn during their 30 minute cardio sessions they neglect the remaining 23.5 hours of their waking day? If so, you can pair their resistance training workouts with the NEAT way to achieve wellness.

The Thermogenic Effect of NEAT

Energy expenditure associated with spontaneous movement is referred to as Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT). According to the IUPS Thermal Commission, thermogenesis is defined as “heat production due to metabolic energy transformation by processes that do not involve contraction of skeletal muscles”. Put simply, this translates into the body working smarter throughout the day, resulting in the the use of brown adipose tissue–a desirable outcome for metabolic activity.

According to Dr James Levine, the Mayo Clinic scientist who first described the phenomenon of NEAT, its energy expenditure can vary by as many as 2,000 calories a day, depending upon one’s genetics, stature and build. There has been much research in this area, as obesity-related disorders such as diabetes continue their rise to epidemic proportions. Scientists and exercise physiologists alike agree that individuals struggling with their weight can tap into NEAT as an easy-to-execute, practical tool. Coupled with a focus on the metabolic effect of our food choices, NEAT becomes even more significant.

The Body Is A Verb

Whether we are active or sedentary, our bodies are constantly utilizing energy. Daily total energy expenditure (TEE) is the net amount of energy utilized by the body to maintain core functions, such as respiration and basic movements. This value is determined by assessing three parameters:  basal metabolic rate, the thermic effect of food (how the body digests what it consumes), and the energy spent on physical activity.

Furthermore, this total value reflects other factors such as age, body composition, thyroid status, medications and even body temperature. A larger body shape requires more energy to move; unfortunately, individuals who are significantly overweight tend not to reap this benefit due to a tendency toward more sedentary lifestyles than their leaner counterparts. Research has revealed that lean individuals stand, walk and fidget significantly more during the day, amassing an additional 350 – calorie expenditure.

Simple Daily Doses Add Up

As one would expect, NEAT corresponds to energy expenditure associated with ADL (Activities of Daily Living). This is in contrast to exercise activity thermogenesis, which refers to the energy required to engage in any type of purposeful exercise (fitness, running, skiing, etc.). While the latter puts a greater energy drain (calories burned) on the body, it is amazing how much IS burned simply by performing NEAT movements. “It takes energy — calories — to move even the smallest muscle,” explains exercise physiologist Polly de Mille, RN, Director of the Tisch Sports Performance Center at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. “For example, you burn about 1.5 calories per minute just lying still while your body performs its most basic functions.” As an average body transitions from a horizontal position to sitting in a chair, an additional 25% more calories will get burned.

By focusing upon increasing regular ambulatory motion – our hunter and gatherer forefathers had no choice but to move through life –an additional 2,000 calories can get utilized without ever setting foot in the gym. When compared to an hour spent on a stationary cycle, which typically burns 300-400 calories, this seems like a very worthwhile endeavor!

NEAT Ideas For Non-Athletes

Even if a client struggles with being purposefully active – due to time constraints or health issues – there are many ways in which you can encourage and help him increase his daily caloric burn.

The simplest way to expend energy is to pass right by the elevator and find the nearest staircase. This can be accomplished at the client’s office, the shopping mall, or to his front door if he lives above the first floor. If his long workday is spent at a desk, suggest he ask the company’s Human Resources Department if they offer the option of utilizing a variable-height desk. While the number of calories expended standing at a desk versus sitting is not tremendous, there is a much greater chance of moving around the office if one is already vertical as opposed to relaxed in a comfortable office swivel chair. Another great suggestion is to limit emails to co-workers in favor of walking to their desks to deliver the message.

Sometimes it is necessary to help a client think outside the box. If his job tends toward the tedious, number-crunching variety, he might choose to break up the monotony of his workday with periodic excursions. Taking a coffee break at the second nearest Starbuck’s instead of the one adjacent to the office, or walking with a co-worker to a local eatery for lunch rather than dining at one’s desk, can keep blood circulating, minds active, and energy consumption high.

If purchasing groceries is on the client’s agenda, remind him that he can walk, bike or drive to the store and peruse the aisles. Except in emergencies or severely inclement weather, there is really no reason to regularly use shopping delivery services.

Similarly, while it is often easier to hire professionals to perform chores such as housekeeping, cleaning and lawn maintenance, caring for one’s home and its environs is a positive and productive way to burn calories. From sweeping and vacuuming to weeding the garden, basic movement is not only good for a healthy body but sustains mental health as well. Once in the habit of regular movement, remaining seated for an extended length of time feels unnatural.

Walk to Wellness in the Workplace

Not every employee at a gym defines himself as an avid exerciser. There are many “behind the scenes” individuals at my community center who help keep our Fitness Department running smoothly: those in our Business Office, Payroll Department, Marketing/Management, and Housekeeping, to name a few.

Consider working in tandem with the Human Resources Department to initiate a NEAT challenge. This may be as simple as attempting 10 consecutive days’ worth of walking 10,000 steps per day, the number promoted by the U.S. Department of Health. Employees who meet or exceed the goal can perhaps be rewarded with a pedometer, or 1 free session of personal training.

The more NEAT activities in which sedentary individuals engage each day, the more calories are burned, facilitating weight management and improving overall health, according to research published in June 2018 in the Journal of Exercise, Nutrition & Biochemistry. If one is already active, such as a client or group exercise participant, incorporating simple NEAT movements will add to the benefits they already reap!

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Cathleen Kronemer

Cathleen Kronemer is an NFPT CEC writer and a member of the NFPT Certification Council Board. Cathleen is an AFAA-Certified Group Exercise Instructor, NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer, ACE-Certified Health Coach, former competitive bodybuilder and freelance writer. She is employed at the Jewish Community Center in St. Louis, MO. Cathleen has been involved in the fitness industry for over three decades. Feel free to contact her at She welcomes your feedback and your comments!