You know exercise is essential for weight loss and overall health, but it’s not an express pass to your goals. Even if you work out an hour a day, there are 23 more — and you can’t afford to be sedentary for all of them. That’s where non-exercise activity thermogenesis, often referred to as NEAT exercise, comes in.
NEAT is a physiologist’s term for unstructured movement; walking your dog, whacking golf balls, or working in the garden are all good examples. NEAT can happen indoors or out. It can be brief or lengthy, solitary or social, purposeful or pleasurable. That’s what’s great about NEAT: it’s adaptable, safe, low-effort, and easy to incorporate into your life.
Conversely, jogging, lifting weights, practicing martial arts, and doing other forms of exercise don’t qualify as NEAT because they’re intense, structured, and purposeful; you perform them to elicit a specific response from your body, and typically track that performance to ensure you’re getting better at them. That’s why the term “NEAT exercise” is a misnomer — it can’t be exercise if it’s non-exercise.
How Active Should I Be Outside My Workouts?
NEAT isn’t just an addendum to regular exercise — it’s essential to health and wellness. Research suggests that regular exercise — even an hour a day — isn’t enough to combat the effects of a mostly sedentary lifestyle. So we need to get on our feet more often.
The obvious question: how much and how often?
One answer is “as much as possible.” We know that sitting is hard on your joints, your metabolism, and your body composition — and that walking, by itself, can relieve anxiety, improve core stability and posture, burn calories, and improve blood sugar. The more time you spend on your feet — or fidgeting, or tossing a ball, or doing housework — the better.
A more useful answer: try to get more than you’re getting now. Most smartphones, and many smart watches, come with an app that tracks daily steps. So check your average from the last week or so. If you logged 2,000 steps a day this week, see if you can average 2,500 next week, 3,000 the next, and so on. Ten thousand steps a day — over and above your normal workout routine — is the gold standard.
NEAT Exercises to Supplement Your Workouts
Ten thousand steps amounts to 90 to 100 minutes of walking per day — a tall order for many busy people. Here are some strategies for pulling that off:
1. Walk and talk
“Many people with corporate jobs spend hours on the phone every day,” says Openfit Live trainer Sarah Soares. There’s no need to sit at your desk on those calls. Get up and walk around the room, straighten your desk, or — weather and terrain permitting — walk around the block. (Two 15-minute phone calls = approx. 3,000 steps).
2. Get an app
Need some encouragement and structure to your walks? Check out the live walking programs and recovery workouts on the Openfit app. Pull up one that matches your desired intensity and duration, and let the trainer do the rest. (One 25-minute recovery walk = approx. 2,500 steps).
3. Netflix and move
“Don’t just sit there when you’re watching TV,” Soares suggests. Get down on the floor, do some leg raises, some hip mobility drills, some stretches. (15 minutes of stretching = the equivalent of 750 steps).
4. Podcast your housework
Got a favorite podcast? They aren’t just for your commute. Soares suggests popping on your headphones and whipping through some household chores while you listen. “Sometimes I’ll be so engaged in the show I’ll do more chores just so I can keep listening,” she says. (25 minutes of straightening, dusting, dishes = approx. 2,000 steps).
5. Schedule walking meet-ups
The coffee shop isn’t the only place to meet friends: so is the hiking trail, the museum, or anywhere you can interact while on your feet. Remember, it doesn’t have to be strenuous: just keep moving. (A 60-minute stroll through the park = approx. 4,500 steps).
6. Reframe parenting time
Got little ones? “Get down on the floor with them,” Soares says. “Play their sports with them, take walks with them.” They’ll see that staying active is important to you, and you’ll both get in some movement — as well as some quality time together. (Thirty minutes of playtime = the equivalent of 1,500 steps).
7. Become a NEAT freak
Opportunities to move are all over the place: choose a parking space that’s a few hundred yards from the mall entrance; take the stairs instead of the elevator; walk instead of driving the three blocks to and from the grocery store. Individually, none of these strategies is very time-consuming — but they add up to more time on your feet, less time on the couch, and better health and fitness. (Other activities in total: 750 steps)