As reported elsewhere, I just spent 5 days walking on Fraser Island, a World Heritage island just off the coast of south-east Queensland, Australia. It’s an amazing island built entirely of ocean sand deposits, yet it supports large freshwater lakes and huge forest and scrub wilderness — ideal for hiking with backpacks between specially built walkers’ camps courtesy of the National Parks people. And the dingoes add a little spice to the adventure.
NEAT also happens to be a technical term in the metabolism sciences meaning “non-exercise activity thermogenesis”. This is the activity you do when you’re not doing any formal exercise — things like fidgeting, pacing, being on the move all the time at home or at work and so on. Hauling a 20 kilo pack for 15 kms a day hiking is not necessarily ‘non-exercise’ but the point is that in studies of NEAT in various populations, scientists found that the differences in energy use between NEAT maximisers and neat minimisers can be up to 2000 kcalories a day, and even just standing for two hours rather than sitting for two hours can use around 300 kcalories extra a day.
A team at the Mayo Clinic have studied the NEAT thing quite extensively: “Obese individuals appear to exhibit an innate tendency to be seated for 2.5 hours per day more than sedentary lean counterparts.”
Now that’s really useful to know, because for those of us who run training and weight loss programs for the obese and overweight, it becomes obvious that some people are not going to be able to do any formal exercise program for reasons of size or motivation or disability.
The next best thing — or perhaps even the best thing — is to get them to ramp up their NEAT. Three hundred to 500 kcalories a day in NEAT could be all that some of these people need, along with another 500 kcalories in food energy restriction, to start losing the flab.
Convincing people to move more in their daily lives could be the ‘sleeper’ factor is arresting the obesity epidemic. Walking is the dominant form of NEAT, even if it’s around the home, but preferably around the block and not to the refrigerator or local fast food outlet.