Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)

Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) refers to the activities of daily living that burn calories without stepping foot inside of a gym. In fact, it appears that NEAT has more of an impact on body weight than “working out” does. NEAT varies widely among people. Yours could contribute as little as 15% or as much as 50% of your total energy expenditure.

People with highly active jobs can burn up to 1000 calories more each day than their sedentary counterparts. According to the American Heart Association, “To reverse obesity, we need to develop individual strategies to promote standing and ambulating time by 2.5 hours per day and also re-engineer our work, school, and home environments to render active living the option of choice.”

 Add some more activity into your daily routine, and keep at it for 3 weeks. It will become a habit, and you may just become thinner and healthier! Dr James Levine of the Mayo Clinic, the founder of the NEAT principle, has studied calorie burning for more than 20 years. For more information about NEAT, read Levine’s book, Move a Little, Lose A Lot, written with Selene Yeager.

Endocrinologist James Levine gets a little exercise while working at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., Jan. 19. Levine says many people are victims of electronic living to get himself moving, he built his desk around a treadmill and conducts all his meetings while going for a walk.

Simple ways to increase NEAT

Try these suggestions:

  • Pace while talking on the telephone
  • Do jumping jacks, push-ups, or another exercise of your choice during commercial breaks
  • Park as far away as possible from the store when shopping
  • Do not use drive-through banking or fast food—get out of the car and walk inside
  • Take the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator
  • Mow the grass with a push mower
  • Become a gardener instead of hiring a landscaper
  • Do not send interoffice e-mail; instead, walk to the other person’s office and talk face to face
  • Get up every 20 minutes and walk around, or do some stretches when working at your computer or doing other work at your desk
  • Just stand up; stand instead of sitting whenever possible—you will increase your level of NEAT
  • Wash your car by hand instead of taking it to a drive-through car wash
  • Prepare your own meals instead of purchasing them ready to go; yes, even slicing your own tomatoes or mashing your own potatoes increases NEAT
  • Put your alarm clock across the room instead of right beside the bed—up and at ‘em
  • Do a little housework every day
  • Schedule your work meetings with coworkers or have your after-dinner conversations with friends and family outside—take a walk around the block or yard 

References and recommended readings

Hellmich N. Q&A: how to drop pounds with all-day activities, not exercise. Available at: Accessed May 17, 2010.

Levine JA, Vander Weg MW, Hill JO, Klesges RC. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis: the crouching tiger hidden dragon of societal weight gain. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol [serial online]. 2006;26:729-736. Available at: Accessed May 17, 2010.

 Review Date 6/10