In March, this year, Saina Jayapal, a Bengaluru-based PR professional, began making it a point to walk 10,000 steps a day. She was trying to lose weight and needed to fit in some extra movement every day to do so, says Jayapal, who also eats right and works out regularly. She has managed to keep to her goal by fitting in movement all through the day – pacing with her phone or walking back from places—and tracking herself using a fitness app. “I realised walking more was the only way I could lose weight,” she says.
If you’ve ever embarked on a weight loss program, you know the rules of the game: count your calories and make more mindful food choices; train regularly; sleep enough; manage your hormones and stress. However, there is another component of weight loss and fitness that we aren’t talking about enough: NEAT. According to the American Council of Exercise (ACE), NEAT or non-exercise activity thermogenesis includes the activities expended outside of exercise, eating and sleeping.
“Simple tasks such as raking leaves, physical labour, climbing stairs and even fidgeting help us expend additional calories,” says a 2014 article on the ACE website, pointing out that NEAT increases metabolic rate and results in people expending a substantial amount of energy over time. “Adopting NEAT behaviours can increase daily caloric expenditure by as much as 350 calories per day, and is particularly beneficial for obese individuals,” it adds.
Yash Vardhan Swami, a Chandigarh-based fitness coach and educator, agrees with this. “Human bodies are meant to move and movement is amazing for cardiovascular and lymphatic health too,” he says, pointing out that NEAT can help burn extra calories, help digestion, manage stress and get one to sleep better. And yes, it helps that it is free and does not require any dedicated equipment or membership or tutorial, he adds.
Unfortunately, however, many of us ignore this aspect of fitness. Let’s face it, most of us come back home after a 45-minute workout and then plop on the couch all day, claiming to be too tired to move. “There is a study when people start a weight loss program, they often cut out all those other actions like going to a shop, buying groceries etc,” says Abishek Balaji, a Chennai-based fitness coach and the founder of 24X7 Fitness Studio.
The end result is that you may end up not losing weight since the total calories you’ve burnt overall, even after working out, will remain the same. “I feel NEAT gets neglected because most of us don't understand the importance of being active,” says Swami who believes that most people undermine the number of calories we can burn just by being more active. “We can make a significant difference in our health and even fat loss goals just by walking more over time.”
Ready to start being more active? Megha Kapoor, a Jaipur-based certified fitness and nutrition coach offers some suggestions:
1. Walk around while you are on a work call or talking to your friends
2. Try to always keep your phone away from you if you don’t need it consistently at a time. Keep things you need a bit further away from you. This way when your phone rings, you will be forced to walk to it.
3. Avoid telling your staff to do the work that you can easily do yourself. Fetch your things yourself.
4. If you have pets that need to be walked every day, walk them yourself. Don’t hire someone to walk them.
5. On a weekend, when you have time, wash your car yourself. This is more fun than it sounds. Have kids? Include them in this too; it’s a blast!
6. Park your car further from the entrance of the grocery store/mall instead of getting the closest parking spot possible.
7. If you have younger children/nieces/nephews, play with them and participate in their games (not video games!). It's mutually beneficial.
8. Invest in a standing desk if possible, at work. Ikea has some reasonable ones.
9. When you come back from the grocery store/airport, unload your bags yourself.
10. When you’re done eating your meal, take your plate to the kitchen yourself and get those steps in.