8 High-Impact Fat Burning Fact About Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)

nutrition Dec 13, 2021
8 High-Impact Fat Burning Fact About Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)

By Doc Mok

You are now stuck at home.  There is less to do.  You cannot travel and have to distance yourself from loved ones.  Perhaps you now have extra time on your hands and that time has to be filled with something?  As I walk around my neighborhood in Cleveland, OH, I am encouraged by seeing many other individuals out, biking, walking, and running.  Instead of binge-watching streaming services, perhaps there is a way to have fun and see a health benefit? This week at maximalbeing.com we explore 8 Fat Burning Facts About Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT).



The World is Walking Less

Outside of exercise time, leisure, work, walks and other activities are termed non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT).  NEAT is an excellent, way to burn extra calories and maximize your fat loss potential.  With limitations in our travel, social, and work activity, the question arises are we as a society becoming more sedentary or more active? 

Interestingly enough, this year FitBit analyzed their step data during the early days of the pandemic.  What they found were startling, in that steps in the US dropped by 12% and certain parts of Europe as high as 38%.  Now, this is likely the result of Europeans walking a lot, to begin with, thus a more dramatic change. 


from fitbit.com data on non-exercise activity thermogenesis and steps



True this is only one company.  Not everyone wears their products, yet it is likely a representative cross-section of our world to date.  Those brief glimpses of hope that I see around the neighborhood, may not be correlating with wins in the struggle for fat-burning potential.  I say this because walking and other non-exercise activity thermogenesis activities are important to wellness and health goals.  Let’s explore why through some numbers.


Fat Burning Thermogenic Math

It is true that the small things add up.  The amount of energy you burn in a day is directly impacted by several factors, termed total energy expenditure (TEE).  TEE encompasses your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and the thermogenic effect of food (TEF). 


Non-exercise activity thermogeneis involved fat burning math


Further breaking down BMR, your height, weight, sex, and age are key non-modifiable factors.  However, also figured into your BMR is your activity level.  If you are a sedentary person who does not exercise, your BMR will be low.  On the contrary, if you work out, the number of exercise days, will raise your BMR. 

On the other hand, TEF is the energy involved in burning your food.  That’s right, eating burns calories.  That is because your gut (yay guthealth!) works very hard to take your food and process/absorb it into fuel that it can utilize.  However, your body is very efficient and often will absorb more than this process alone will burn.  Otherwise, we would all wither away to nothing.


Where Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis Figures Into the Fat-Burning Equation

The other piece of this mathematical puzzle is NEAT.  NEAT is the stuff burned after these other components are taken into account.  The proposed formula is




So, what is NEAT?  Non-exercise activity thermogenesis involves leisure and passive activities that involve effort and burn energy.  Examples of this include:

  • energy expended with occupation (construction for example)
  • leisure time activity (kayaking, hiking)
  • sitting
  • standing
  • ambulation
  • toe-tapping (fidgeting)
  • shoveling snow, playing the guitar, dancing, singing, washing, and many more. 

These can be separated into ambulation, body posture, and spontaneous movements as categories for non-exercise activity thermogenesis.  The more of these factors that you have each day, the higher your NEAT is and the more energy you burn.  Yet, what determines NEAT how much NEAT you will do and who exhibits the most non-exercise activity thermogenesis?


How Gender Can Have a High-Impact on Fat Burning Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis

A hard subject to hash out is the impact of gender on non-exercise activity thermogenesis.  It can easily be argued that men have a higher NEAT than women and that women have a higher NEAT than men.  The biggest factor deciding this gender disparity is the cultural impacts of that gender.


Gender variations in NEAT are dependent on the culture of the person


In certain cultures, such as West Africa, the NEAT of women is much higher than men.  The main reason being that women in the studied culture work and often then perform agriculturally and home NEAT after completing their work activities, while men, seek sedentary leisure.  On the other hand, in more westernized cultures, the research has alluded to the NEAT of women being lower than men.  

This discrepancy is believed to be due to men performing more activity-based leisure activities and women handling both work and more sedentary home tasks after work.  Personally, I think these are generalizations and really the difference may even be based upon that unique households’ culture.


As Age and Income Goes Up, Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis Goes Down

Another person-dependent factor is age.  Generally speaking, younger persons have a higher NEAT than older persons.  This is due to physical limitations, such as disability but also due to time limitations, like work and leisure.  I am not trying to be agist, just following the data.  Personally, when my grandmother was alive she walked more every day than most typically walk in a week.  This is how she stayed so healthy (see below)

Again, the society that you live in will also impacts the fat burning of non-exercise activity thermogenesis.  The more industrialized a society, the less NEAT there is, as machines perform the activity in lieu of the person.  The higher the income of a person, however, the more time is available for leisure and the higher the NEAT.

I do think that one could argue though that there are variations among this statement.  Namely jobs that require a high degree of physical activity, such as agriculture or construction.  In such people the NEAT you obtain just at work will greatly outweigh going to the gym for 1 hours every single day.


Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis Can Vary Fat Burning Based Upon Season

On the topic of outdoor activity, one would assume that the warmer it is, the higher the NEAT.  This is mostly true, as warmer weather allows people access to outdoor leisure such as walking, bike, riding, etc, not otherwise available with colder temperatures. However one example of NEAT being high are in cold-extreme communities like the Inuits.

Both extreme heat and extreme cold can increase NEAT


In such cultures, high amounts of calories are required to maintain basic weight stability.  This is likely due to the high amount of energy that is expended from maintaining temperature (shivering).  So, to summarize, extremes of temperature may also allow for neater, when activity and ambulation are not factors. 


How Overfeeding and Starvation Impact Fat Burning for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis

As discussed above, the thermogenic effect of food, will spend energy.  However, studies have also looked at the relationship between food intake and NEAT.  One would assume that when you eat less, exercise more, your will burn fat.  Like all things in the human body, the relationship IS NOT SIMPLE

When you eat more, you burn more energy.  Overweight people also have a higher resting energy expenditure, compared to lighter people (all other things the same), as they have more mass. People who overfeed or underfeed have a variable relationship with NEAT, per present research.  However more NEAT does lead to more fat burning.  This can be demonstrated in the show “The Biggest Loser” a show for which the results have now been studied longitudinally.  

In this show contestants underwent variable weight-loss strategies, leading to benefits in the short term.  However, those that developed life-long sustainable non-exercise activity thermogenesis (like walking), had the highest level for success.  The conclusion, the relationship with feeding and NEAT is not linear, but the introduction of NEAT as a maintenance strategy for dietary extremes will lead to long-term benefits.


The Health Benefits of NEAT, Live Longer, Less Diabetes, and Weight Loss

So why do we need NEAT?  Well, you will live longer.  A study out of the Journal of the American Medical Association (a highly regarded source) this year determined that people who walk more, live longer.  Specifically, those with under 4,000 steps in a day had significantly higher mortality than any of the higher divisions.  As an added bonus, the mortality rates went down incrementally with each elevation in steps.


JAMA study showed over 4,000 steps leads to a lower mortality


As if that wasn’t enough of a reason to walk.  In JAMA, walking was found to reduce the risk of diabetes in women studied.  This benefit improved with increased vigor.  For more reasons to walk, ready RN Graham article (here) 

So more NEAT, live longer, prevent metabolic disease. 

Personally, I have been walking about 2-3 times more than prior COVID times.  This has correlated with a leaner physique.  The evidence per the Mayo Clinic Proceedings supports this claim, showing that NEAT can lead to fat loss and SHOULD be a more active part in our fat loss strategies.  

If you make NEAT a part of your active recovery days through walking, leisure, standing up at work, even just standing every few hours, you will see short-term body composition and long-term health gains.


Summary of High-Impact Fat Burning Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis

We burn energy through a complex mathematical equation, part of which involves

  1. Ambulation
  2. Standing
  3. Other activities through leisure called non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT).

NEAT is highly variable amongst sex, age, culture, geography, climate, socioeconomic class.  As a race, humans are walking less.  The evidence shows that NEAT will lead to fat loss, lower risk of metabolic disease and YOU WILL LIVE LONGER!  For high-impact fat-burning non-exercise activity thermogenesis, use leisure, walking, standing desks for the WIN!


(that Your Doctor Won’t Tell You)

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