When we set out to lose weight, two concepts inevitably come to mind: diet and exercise. We wonder which of the two is more important when it comes to shedding pounds, often overlooking a third element that is rarely discussed but holds significant influence over our relationship with the scale. Scientists from the Mayo Clinic revealed in January 2005 that obese individuals typically spend an average of 150 more minutes sitting per day than lean individuals, resulting in burning 350 fewer calories, emphasizing the importance of this overlooked factor.
But what exactly are we talking about? We're talking about NEAT. Jorge Sánchez-Infante Gómez-Escalonilla, a professor of Sports Injuries at the European University of Madrid, explains this wonder that nature has endowed us with, a concept we underutilize today. "NEAT stands for 'non-exercise activity thermogenesis,' which refers to the energy expended while performing all activities in our daily lives other than sleeping, eating, or engaging in structured exercise or sports."
As the Mayo Clinic experts and many others have pointed out, "although NEAT may not be commonly considered when aiming to lose weight, it is a key concept for weight loss and achieving optimal caloric expenditure relative to our calorie intake."
It's clear that, as Sánchez-Infante Gómez-Escalonilla explains, when we want to lose weight, "the first thing that comes to mind is reducing calorie intake and increasing physical activity through exercise." However, our hectic lifestyles sometimes make it challenging to meet both requirements, and in such scenarios, NEAT becomes a crucial factor in breaking away from a sedentary life.
For example, he continues, "simple 'gestures' such as walking to do the shopping, commuting to work by bicycle, taking the stairs, or spending less time sitting can be significant factors in adopting a more active lifestyle and consequently losing body weight. All of this will contribute to improving our health and be key in preventing diseases associated with sedentary behavior such as obesity."
Simply getting up from our chairs occasionally to stand for a few minutes activates our NEAT and thus burns more calories, as demonstrated by a team of researchers from the Mayo Clinic (once again) in a study published in January 2018.
So, what can we do to maximize NEAT and enhance our daily calorie burning? Jorge Sánchez-Infante Gómez-Escalonilla summarizes: "The key would be to reintegrate the following activities, which we may have stopped doing out of convenience or due to our tendency to rely on the conveniences offered by technology. That is: taking the stairs; walking or cycling to work, to the store, or to any destination; going for walks; doing in-person shopping instead of online; spending more time standing; doing household chores...". In short, it's about using our bodies for what they are 'designed' for... moving!