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Here's How to Burn A Couple Extra Calories

By Martha Michael

Boost Your NEAT

Active Americans are obsessed with fitness camps, Zumba classes, and tracking their steps. But what if you could get a lot of your exercise quota met just by washing the car, cleaning the house, and walking the dog?

Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, or NEAT, is the name for the energy you expend through means that don’t include eating, sleeping, or structured exercise.

Recent studies show that you burn more calories than you think from mundane, non-resting activities. This process may explain the mysterious way some people stay pencil thin when they never darken the door of a gym.

Defining NEAT

The calories we burn during NEAT activities are made up of spontaneous everyday routines from cooking to dressing for bed. The cumulative effect of tasks like gardening, typing, and folding laundry can have a big impact on your health when it raises your net output to higher levels.

The total daily energy expenditure of movements created by your business and personal lifestyle practices affects your metabolism which can expand your lifespan, says an article in VerywellFit.com. A study of more than 12,000 British women over a 12-year period shows that you can reduce your risk of death through an increase in movements as minimal as fidgeting.

NEAT activity levels burn a different number of calories for each individual and for some it contributes to weight loss. A few of the factors affecting your body’s response to NEAT activities are environment, genetics and line of work.

Boosting Your NEAT

You can affect your NEAT level to some degree, the Verywell Fit article says. Make small steps by increasing your movements when you’re sitting at work or watching TV. But don’t sit too long. Choose a standing desk for your work station because you want to reduce your time in sedentary activities as much as possible.

The National Academy of Sports Medicine provides a detailed example of the benefits. If you weigh 145 pounds you’ll likely burn about 102 calories per hour while just sitting. But if you stand while working you can raise it to 174 calories. In one year that totals more than 18,000 calories, which means a weight loss of 5 pounds -- the equivalent of 60 30-minute runs at 5 miles per hour.

Other methods to boost your daily totals include carrying a basket instead of pushing a shopping cart at the market and, when possible, taking stairs rather than elevators. Or just make small gains through such movements as foot tapping and head bobbing throughout the day.

The Environment for NEAT

Some of the factors affecting your NEAT calculation are within your control, but some are not. An article in Science Direct supports the idea that your culture is partly responsible for determining the level of movement in your lifestyle. People’s attitudes about relaxation, for instance, can cause them to be more or less active, depending on whether or not they value physical attributes or mental aptitude.

There are some workplace practices in which an inability to stay sedentary is less productive and there’s a dearth of physicality built into the job. While that describes a lot of white collar careers, research shows a measurably higher level of NEAT in manual laborers and agricultural workers.

Scientists aren’t sure what regulates NEAT, but the hypothalamus plays a part in the level of NEAT in animals, according to research. As the nerve center for hunger and fullness, experts can see the link between food intake and NEAT levels.

“Physiological studies demonstrate, intriguingly, that NEAT is modulated with changes in energy balance; NEAT increases with overfeeding and decreases with underfeeding,” says the article. “Thus, NEAT could be a critical component in how we maintain our body weight and/or develop obesity or lose weight.”

Medical Effects of NEAT

Everyday Health offers suggestions to boost your NEAT and take you from couch potato to mover and shaker, which all boils down to sitting less and moving more.

The reason you want to consider raising your NEAT is to avoid some of the negative health effects of maintaining just a minimum of daily movement. They include:

  • High blood sugar
  • Raised level of fatty acids
  • Insulin resistance
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Increased risk of type 2 diabetes

The average sitting time has risen to about 6 1/2 hours per day for American adults says the Journal of American College of Cardiology. But movement of the smallest kind -- even a few minutes here or there -- can make a difference and get you closer to the minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise.

Every muscle requires energy to move. You burn 1.5 calories for every minute you’re lying down simply because your body is performing basic functions. You burn 25 percent more when you sit in a chair answering emails.

Whether you play an instrument or dance while doing chores -- you can get creative when you brainstorm ways to increase your activity levels. And it’s not a new concept -- you probably don’t need to hear more testimonials about how people benefit from boosting their NEAT practices.

Now it’s your move.

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