We all know that weight control depends on the relationship between calories consumed and calories expended. Both halves of that equation can be adjusted to create weight loss—you can eat less or burn more—but we’re often limited in the strategies we consider, especially when it comes to calorie expenditure. When we think of burning calories, we tend to focus on workouts. But there is another important component of calorie expenditure: Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. NEAT is an important part of successful weight management, and understanding what it is and how you can control it will help you on the path to reaching and maintaining a healthy weight.

To understand NEAT, we first need to understand the concept of daily energy expenditure. This is the total number of calories that you burn each day, and it can be broken down into three categories:

  1. Your basal metabolic rate is the amount of energy your body uses at rest to keep vital processes operating. It makes up roughly 60% of your daily energy expenditure.
  2. The thermic effect of food is the amount of energy your body uses to digest, absorb, and store food. It varies depending on your eating habits and forms a fairly small component of daily expenditure, roughly 10%.
  3. Activity thermogenesis refers to energy you burn by being active and accounts for the remainder of your daily energy expenditure, roughly 30%. This is the type of calorie burn over which you have the most control. Formal Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (FEAT) is the energy you burn while pursuing fitness-related goals. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) refers to all other calorie burning activities: cooking, driving, household chores, etc.

The first two components of daily energy expenditure are not easily changed; focusing weight loss efforts on your basal metabolism or thermic effects from food will not yield significant results. FEAT is an important component of weight loss that you do control, but it is difficult to build the calorie deficit needed for sustained weight loss through workouts alone. On the other hand, NEAT is a type of calorie burn that is easy to adjust and can contribute significantly to overall calorie deficit. Whether you find yourself in a weight loss rut or a lose/gain cycle, consider changing your NEAT to give your body an extra push toward reaching and maintaining a healthy weight.

For most of us, sedentary lifestyles lower our calories burned through NEAT. We spend much of our workday sitting, only to come home and spend much of our leisure time sitting, too. This means that our NEAT is minimal. The good news is that sedentary habits can be changed, and when it comes to NEAT lots of small changes can add up to a big effect. Consider the following ways to increase your daily NEAT:

  • Walk whenever possible. Park in the farthest spot, take the stairs, stroll around the block, or set a timer to remind you to get up and walk around your home or office once every half hour.
  • Consider wearing a pedometer to monitor how much you walk throughout the day, and make a goal to increase that distance over time.
  • Regularly engage in leisure activities that involve physical movement, such as golf, gardening, dancing, etc.
  • Avoid labor-saving devices and common conveniences. Opt to hand-wash your dishes, hang your laundry out to dry, or pick up dinner instead of having it delivered.

These changes aren’t drastic, and most of them will easily fit into routines you already have. But together, they can add up to a crucial ingredient in the struggle for weight management. Making these small activities part of your daily routine will complement calorie burn from your workouts and careful eating, providing another piece of the weight loss puzzle.