How NEAT Are You?

working people in motion.jpg

What is your motion meter?  

Are you a "mover"--  in pertual motion, barely able to sit through a movie?  Or do  you amble through the day, with much of it anchored to a chair? 

The “movers”, the people who can't sit still are burning more NEAT calories than those of you who prefer and do sit still.  

NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) are those calories burned doing non-exercise related physical activity.  

We all know a “mover”-maybe it’s a child or that “naturally” thin, fidgety friend.  Despite the benefits of our hi-tech world, computers have changed our motion meters.

If you are a tradesperson, ER nurse or MD, chances are you are burning far more NEAT calories than a computer programmer or anyone with a desk job.

How important is NEAT? 

Research suggests that NEAT can account for more calories burned during the day than regular, moderate exercise, even greater than 50 % of our total energy expenditure in some major “movers”.

When you compare "movers" with people who find a way of avoiding physical movement, the "movers"  burn significantly more calories.

Obese people sit 2.5 hours more per day than non-obese people, burning 350 fewer calories-- about the same amount of calories burned in a 3-mile walk.

We need regular exercise for the cardiovascular and mental health benefits but the calories burned in moderate exercise 3-5x/week for 30-60 minutes are limited to ~ 200-500 calories per session--not bad, but an active NEAT day can burn well over 500 and up to 2000 calories for those major movers.


James Levine, MD, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic is a pioneer in the field of metabolism and NEAT research.  He has transformed a whole wing at the Mayo clinic putting into practice his research findings including: utilizing higher workstations to facilitate more standing and perpetual reminders for people to avoid “chairs”. 

Dr. Levine’s research is compelling! 

Overall, movers have greater advantages on metabolism over non-movers. All movement is helpful and cumulative towards calories burned in a given day. 

Standing burns more calories than sitting and sitting without other movement carries a whole world of risk; not just musculoskeletal but metabolic risk, changing our metabolism at a cellular level, affecting how we burn calories.

In chronic “sitters”, research shows the enzyme lipoprotein lipase (LPL) begins to “turn off’.  LPL breaks down triglyceride fat in our blood. Less LPL increases weight gain and cardiovascular risks.  

Research is rapidly demonstrating that two areas of our health- digestion and heart health are closely related. Our gut microbiome influences our cardiovascular health--who knew right?!  

So, what does NEAT have to do with our gut?  Actually, these days I wonder if there is anything in the body that the gut microbiome doesn't affect?  

We all know physical activity is important but the motivation to move is a bit trickier.  Everyone’s genes, biochemistry and gut microflora is unique and therefore ability to gain or lose weight may differ.

Some gut organisms are responsible for "energy extraction", making us-the host, more energy efficient. Unfortunately, not the kind of efficiency we want--unless we are in a famine.

Energy efficiency makes us good at storing fat. To compound this, a gut dysbiosis may contribute to insulin resistance-- a metabolic state where our pancreas makes too much insulin --trying to keep our blood sugars normal and the insulin receptors on our cells lose sensitivity to the insulin we do produce. 

Insulin resistance is a risky metabolic place to be that can make us fatter.  Insulin resistance is also associated with leptin resistance, a hormone made by our fat cells.

When leptin becomes imbalanced, not only can it increase the drive to eat, but also increase that desire to be anchored to a chair.

Research is showing that exercise affects these gut microbes through a variety of pathways.   Yup- these organisms  get involved with many, many pathways in the body.

Since we must co-exist with these critters, we might as well have them working on our behalf--whose body is it anyway?  

And although they are affected by many factors--- diet may exert the greatest influence.  Eating a healthy diet and regular exercise are two of the most important lifestyle factors to maintaining a healthy balance of microbes in your gut--which in turn make it easier to up that motion meter

Walk--even ten minutes at time. 

My clients seek my consultation for a variety of reasons. We talk about NEAT at nearly every appointment. 

In particular, they appreciate learning that calories burned during movement is cumulative, so short bouts of movement count--especially if you move again and again--and add up your daily movement.  

Boost YOUR NEAT calories by sitting less and moving more, particularly walking, whether it's sweeping your floor, dancing to a song on the radio, or walking around your house.

Try walking whenever you are on the phone, especially if it's a social call that may require less other attention. 

Please don’t underestimate NEAT's impact on your metabolism. Your waistline and gut microflora will thank you!

Cindy Carroll