December 11, 2009

Non-Exercise Exercise? NEAT-0!

(Photo: AndWat)

Attention Cranky Fitness slackers! There is such a thing as non-exercise exercise! So c'mon and join the new non-exercise movement...or maybe I should say "non-movement". You've got to admit, with a headline like "Exercise Without Really Exercising", there's going to be an avalanche of interested readers - myself included. I am all over this notion of non-exercise like a cheap suit. If there's one thing I like, it's work dressed up in leisure clothes.

NEAT, or nonexercise activity thermogenesis, is the energy you expend from doing everything outside of intentional exercise - in other words, just plain slacking off. This article claims that "researchers" say this kind of activity "is just as important to maintaining a healthy weight as official sweat sessions" (the non-Tiger Woods between-the-sheets variety, that is). It makes suggestions of how doing life's little chores with just a bit more thought and movement behind them can add up to increased NEAT and therefore, enhanced physical fitness. Hmmmm, sounds fishy to me but let's check out some of what they have to say.

Okay, so there are a couple of suggestions that make sense. Standing up and moving around more - walking over to a colleague's desk instead of emailing him (same office version only) or standing/pacing while talking on the phone. Doing a more athletic version of standard chores like dancing while dusting (What? You're supposed to dust?)or alternating up- and downstairs chores so that you're climbing the stairs more often.

Now here's where the fun starts. Another idea was to "get fidgety" like tapping your toes, wiggling your fingers - a general "twitch and shout" approach. Okay, if it means getting out of doing a formal workout, I could get so fidgety that you could throw in the laundry while I was taking a bath and it would come out clean. How's that for dedication to the cause?

Also, under the "Sounds a little too good to be true" category was the suggestion to chew gum. Oh man, this is SO right up my alley. Okay, but challenge me a little - how about walking and chewing gum at the same time? No mention of such multi-tasking here. It appears that said gum chewing or even chewing your food more thoroughly was considered a teensy part of the overall larger goal of increasing movement - however, small. If this is true, I could give cud-chewing lessons to a dairy farm if it got me out of hoofing it on the treadmill every day.

A notch above this article was a more intermediate and innovative approach to increasing movement. In it are suggestions for things a tad more taxing than chewing gum and ants in your pants: doing bicep curls with the laundry basket, lunging while vacuuming or sweeping and squatting to pick up clothes off the floor versus bending at the waist. Doing a little kung fu fighting kick action while walking from room to room in you house was another idea. Just make sure no one comes home unexpectedly, Grasshopper.

And as far as real research goes, I found this study which, if my Catechism Latin is still intact, does in fact point to the benefits of increased NEAT. To boil it down to its simplest form, this study states that "Urbanization and mechanization are likely to have dramatically impacted NEAT" as we've moved from an agricultural society to one designed for comfort and convenience. As a Cranky Fitness-certified Slacker, however, I must warn you of some of the alarming recommendations contained herein to increase NEAT. For children, some of the strategies included parking school buses a mile away from your usual bus stop, outfitting the schools with treadmill desks (yes, you read that correctly), shooting hoops as a teacher reads aloud and using the PA system for lessons as the children walk through the hallways. Lockers, apparently, will be located in a neighboring county. Pardon me, researchers, but are you crazy? Do you know how much parental NEAT it takes just to get a teen in the shower every third day? Just what color is the sky in your world?

As for the adults, the strategies are no less preposterous (from a slacker perspective, that is): rigging the alarm clock to turn on the treadmill when it goes off, a "walking and watching" section of the movie theater, and a Breatholizer-type concept that signals your TV to turn on only when a treadmill is activated first. Oh dear, what's next? Grinding our morning coffee beans with our new and improved chewing techniques? The sky's the limit - and yes, reaching for that sky matters too. Every little bit of NEAT helps.

So there you have it - the three stages of NEAT. I kid, but it's true that the more we move, the better off we are. Surely, our clever and inventive Cranky Fitness readers must have some ideas of their own that they'd like to share. How about it? Are there any extra moves you incorporate into your day that you think is boosting your NEAT?


  1. Those school suggestions.. I can just imagine our kidlets becoming more fit while their IQ plummets.

    I work at home and spend a lot of time on the computer. I try to get the housework done in small chunks so that I'm not sitting here for hours on end. I also try to grab the camera and walk a couple of times through the day.

    I also tend to drink numerous cups of tea through the day.. that has double NEAT benefits. ;)

  2. Now I finally have a NEAT label to put on what I commonly think of as my trolley (shopping cart) dash! You know the one where you swerve traffic in the parking lot seeing how far you can get back to your car parked as far away from the shop? And my other one I'm glad I now have a NEAT label for is after it's been raining... nothing I love doing more than irritating my sisters (you now how they moan about dirty tackies) by taking my nieces and nephews mud-puddle-jumping!

    But seriously I think that understanding the whole issue about basal metabolism and how it really works was a powerful turning point in my whole weight saga.

  3. While I don't think it can hurt, it doesn't seem like a real effective approach either. It reminded me of a suggestion that a Weight Watchers leader gave my neighbor-do squats and lunges while waiting for copies at work. Too funny-it sounds like a way to get written up at work or at the very least, a reputation as the office weirdo!

  4. I will probably sound like a broken record but my Wii Fit is helping me with this. I have done all those things, parking farther away, using the stairs, walking down the hall instead of email, i even thought of getting a small pedal machine to use at my desk. As of today, I have been doing Wii Fit for 28 days. Because it is fun and puts SO much variety in the work outs, I want to do it and find myself paying attention naturally to what I am doing throughout the day. Inactivity, convenience, computers, and instant gratification are all things in this day and age that contribute. There is a much bigger picture that is lifestyle not just the exercise routine or diet we are currently using.

  5. I love the idea of NEAT in theory, but in practice, I think by nature you either are a fidgetty person or you aren't. The same way I can't remember to correct my posture or take deep breaths etc, I wouldn't be able to remind myself to move more throughout the day. I often find myself rocking in my chair, or tapping my feet, so I think I'm probably burning more than average person in NEAT activities. But it's unconscious. I doubt I could increase it without a drill sergeant following me around.

    And the more non-trivial the movements are that they suggest, the more it sounds like actual exercise. If I'm going to be squatting and lunging and bicep-curling, I'd rather do it in clothes I can sweat in someplace where it doesn't look freakish. Like... the gym!

    Great round up of Neat and not so Neat ideas!

  6. I read that you can get a NEAT workout from laughing. I figure that this means it's okay to spend my time sitting at the computer reading things that make me laugh. Like Cranky Fitness :)

  7. Let's be honest... from the moment the wheel was invented humanity has been putting its finest minds towards making NEAT extinct!... and now its come back to bite us on our overside backsides.

    Everyone could do with a little more NEAT in their day.

  8. You know what I always say: "If God had meant for us to exercise, He wouldn't have invented the remote control"

    *Please be advised that Jack Sh*t is celebrating Opposite Day today. The viewpoints expressed in this comment do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the comment writer. For more information, please go to Jack Sh*t, Gettin’ Fit at

  9. Here is one that I started doing not that long ago that I think is adding a little more activity to my already active lifestyle.

    When I take the trash out...which is kinda a walk to the dumpster already I take a longer route to walk back to my apartment. This serves two functions for me, first it means it adds a little more activity to my day, and second it lets me check up on what my students are up to by walking past some of their apartments. I'm all about multi-tasking!

  10. Sure. Kids can't get books to take home from school due to lack of funds. I can totally see the idea of "treadmill desks" taking off.

    So, after I have mastered the basic gum I just add an extra piece (or ten) in order to increase the "intensity"?

  11. Does clicking with the mouse count?

  12. I'll leave my comments about gum chewing at the door in deference to Crabby. (HATE!!! 'nuff said)

    Howevah...I'm probably already considered the "office weirdo" but I do work in some of this stuff (squats at the copier is new to me, but I don't make many copies) as long as it doesn't make me "glow." I also do things like bicep curls or sumo high pulls with my grocery/shopping bags while waiting for the bus or train. Or farmer's walks if I'm at a shop closer to the house. The day I had a carton of six sparkling wine bottles in one hand and about 20 lbs of baking supplies in the other was a real challenge for the old grip strength.

    I also had a very proud moment on Wednesday...a fire drill (ugh) meant we had ten floors of people standing in the parking lot waiting to use the elevators to get back to work. I beelined for the stairs - and brought a convert with me - and walked the seven floors to my office. I was barely winded (woo hoo! thanks trainers!) but my cohort bailed due to lack of breath on the 5th floor.

    I also agree that you're either a fidgeter or you're not. I'm not...I could sit in the same position for days, provided the seat was comfy enough. My sister is...she drives me batsh*t crazy. (Bless her heart.) However, I'm sufficiently self-aware that I put little alarms in my calendar when I'm working at the computer so it reminds me to stand the heck up every once in a while.

  13. The school suggestions are preposterous. But, the adult ones...not terrible for those of us with lack of motivation. I can't get through a session without tv. I know, i know...I should be present, enjoy myself more, bleh...
    but, really, who would chose this? Are we really going to dictate what kinds of tvs people can have? Making it forced will make resentement and defeat the whole purpose!

  14. I think this is something that should get people thinking... just moving more helps.. every little bit helps! And if you are short of time why not try to do some of this stuff during housework or get up at work or just stand & hold your core tight.. why not!!!!

    I walk up my stairs 2 at a time for extra log & butt work!!! I do a lot in my normal workouts so I am not necessarily looking for more at home BUT if I have to shorten a workout or miss one.. good stuff AND as I said, moving is better than not.

    I also always try to sit up straight & work my core when I am home... and on the computer like now!

  15. Kind of like the theory behind the videos - do some extra squats when pulling laundry out of the dryer etc...

  16. I don't think of NEAT so much as fidgeting or chewing gum, it seems to come into play in this way: Go to gym for 2 hours, burn 1000 calories, too tired to move, sit on ass rest of day. Calories burned: 1000 + BMR. Instead, go to gym for 1 hour, burn 500 calories. Clean kitchen, straighten apt, walk to grocery store, pull some weeds, tidy apartment. Calories burned = 500 + NEAT (not trivial, in this case,likely more than 500 from gym) + BMR. Anyway, I'm not explaining this well, but if you look, you can find the BodyBugg results of this, I know Attrice from Exceptionally Fat did some good posts on this.

  17. This NEAT thing sounds like my kind of exercise :) Seriously though I really do feel that when I do my weekly house cleaning that I am keeping fit and getting my heart racing.

  18. The idea of hooking the alarm clock up to turn the treadmill on might be a good one - if you SLEPT on the treadmill!!


    I was a fidgeter when I was a kid, and was skinny as a rake. I don't fidget as much as an adult (thanks, mom!) and am overweight. Correlation??

  19. Did You know that your Blog is one of Google's top 100 for weight loss and dieting?
    Pretty amazing if you ask me!

  20. NEAT activities make a big difference when you work a desk job. I got a FitBit this year, it tracks a huge difference in my calorie burn when I compare weekdays/deadlines (when I'm on the computer for 8-12 hours) to weekends (when I fuss around in the kitchen and run errands and do laundry, etc etc). It adds up to at least an extra 300 calories, and I don't have to go near the gym. :)

  21. "Does clicking with the mouse count?
    said Dr. J on December 11, 2009 2:17 PM"

    Hey Dr. J, it will count but if you made thousands of clicks in a day to loose weight. Actually this can be a good exercise. Think on it.


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