Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) and Health

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Non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or NEAT, describes the calories burned by the movements we make when we go about our daily business. NEAT includes the physical movement in our lives that isn't planned exercise or sports (or sleeping, breathing, and eating). It's also sometimes called non-exercise physical activity, or NEPA.

Examples of NEAT include activities such as cooking, cleaning, or shopping, and even small movements such as fidgeting or playing a musical instrument. While it might not seem like a lot, it turns out that NEAT can have quite a substantial impact on our metabolic rates and calorie expenditures. A study published in 2016 followed over 12,000 British women for 12 years and found that fidgeting may reduce the risk of death associated with excessive sedentary time.

Calories Burned

How many calories NEAT burns can vary from person to person. A 2014 study reported that the number of calories burned from NEAT vary by up to 2000 kilocalories a day between two individuals of similar size. There are a number of factors that can account for this difference, including environment and genetics. Your job and lifestyle can also influence NEAT; two people with similar body mass indexes (BMIs), but different jobs—sedentary versus active—will likely burn different calorie amounts.  

Using NEAT to Improve Your Health

NEAT is thought to be one of the ways our bodies manage our weight. If we gain weight, NEAT tends to rise; whereas when we lose weight, NEAT often plummets, and people end up sitting more without moving as much. As NEAT researcher James Levine puts it, "We may come to appreciate that spontaneous physical activity is not spontaneous at all but carefully programmed."

One research review noted that the benefits of NEAT go well beyond extra calories expended. More NEAT also means less risk of metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular events, and death from all causes. Plus, research shows that inactivity can negate the hard work you put into intentional exercise. Fighting sedentary behavior with NEAT helps you reap the benefits of your workouts.

Incorporate More NEAT Into Your Life 

There are small ways you can incorporate NEAT into your life. At work and at home, opt for a standing desk instead of sitting. You can also use a stability ball in lieu of, or in addition to, a standing desk. 

According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, a 145-pound person can expect to burn approximately 102 calories an hour while sitting at work. If that person stood while working, they would burn 174 calories. An extra 72 calories might not seem like a lot, but it can add up to more than 18,000 calories burned per year, leading to an approximate 5-pound weight loss. Without utilizing NEAT, you would have to do 60 30-minute runs at 5 miles per hour to burn the same rate of calories. 

If you are waiting in line or sitting stuck in traffic, find small ways to move. It may not burn as many calories as going for a jog, but even tapping your foot or bobbing your head helps your body take advantage of NEAT. Make conscious decisions to move and use your body more. If you are going food shopping, carry a basket instead of using a cart. At the mall? Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator. 

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hagger-Johnson G, Gow AJ, Burley V, Greenwood D, Cade JE. Sitting time, fidgeting, and all-cause mortality in the UK Women's Cohort Study. American Journal of Preventative Medicine. 2016;50(2):154-160. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2015.06.025

  2. von Loeffelholz C, Birkenfeld A, Feingold KR, et al. The role of non-exercise activity thermogenesis in human obesity. In: Endotext [Internet]. South Dartmouth (MA):, Inc.; 2000.

  3. Villablanca PA, Alegria JR, Mookadam F, Holmes DR, Wright RS, Levine LA. Nonexercise activity thermogenesis in obesity management. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2015;90(4):P509-519. doi:10.1016/j.mayocp.2015.02.001

  4. Akin JD, Crawford CK, Burton HM, Wolfe AS, Vardarli E, Coyle EF. Inactivity induces resistance to the metabolic benefits following acute exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2019;126(4):1088-1094. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00968.2018

Additional Reading

By Laura Dolson
Laura Dolson is a health and food writer who develops low-carb and gluten-free recipes for home cooks.