How to Burn Calories All Day Without Working Out
Time to familiarize yourself with "non-exercise activity thermogenesis"
It can be discouraging, after a run on a treadmill, or a HIIT class at the gym, to glance at your monitor or watch and see an uninspiring “calories burned” figure. You know: something well under four digits, more or less equivalent to the blueberry muffin you had for breakfast.
That…isn’t a great way to think about fitness. For one, working out isn’t just about burning calories; it’s about strengthening bones and muscles, challenging yourself and finding some semblance of mindfulness. But more importantly, fixating on energy expenditure puts way too much pressure on an hour of exercise. It fundamentally misunderstands the way that a body functions throughout the day.
How to Burn Calories
Exercise is just one slice of the calorie-burning pie, and for most people, comprises between 15-30%. The massive slice is resting metabolic rate (RMR), or the energy your body sources to keep you existing every day — breathing in and out, moving blood around, thinking things. Based on your size and age, RMR usually takes up over 60% of your calorie-burning per day.
This means your body finds a way to use energy even when you sit around for six or seven hours at a time. Useful. Still, there’s another slice of the pie that you can — and should — work to grow throughout the day, without much effort. That’s non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or NEAT for short.
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What is NEAT Exercise?
As defined in this study: “[NEAT] is the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise. It ranges from the energy expended walking to work, typing, performing yard work, undertaking agricultural tasks and fidgeting.”
It’s not sitting, but it’s no track workout, either. NEAT describes casual movements and activities, of the sort that you would rarely equate with proper exercise. You don’t get changed into activewear in order to attack them with all the vigor you can muster. They just happen.
And that’s what makes them so valuable, both physiologically and philosophically. In the body, more time moving around (in whichever form that may take), means improved metabolic health and increased mitochondrial function. NEAT can account for up to 30% of your calorie burn. Daily activity will literally Benjamin Button your bones.
NEAT Exercises and Activities
These sorts of activities tend to compound on themselves, too, as they’re easy and habit-forming in the precise way that scheduling a workout class — and sticking to it, day after day, month after month — is so mind-numbingly difficult for so many of us. Instead of making one hour a day the be-all/end-all for your calorie-burning, you can populate your other 15 waking others with activities that come naturally.
Stuff like: gardening, walking to the park, cooking, vacuuming, painting, anything. Putzing around aimlessly. Go loiter somewhere. Literally, anything is better than sitting in front of a screen all day and then trying to work out like a maniac for a bit and then going to bed.
Interspersing these sorts of activities with the rigors and responsibilities of your day isn’t particularly onerous because many of them come in bite-sized forms. You’ll do them without thinking to do them — you may have to do many of them (like carrying groceries home).
But recognizing NEAT “exercise” helps you appreciate its impact on your body and life, serving as a reminder to A) seek out more examples of it, and B) not put so much pressure on your exercise routine. Simple movements burn calories, too, and while it defies the entire sales pitch of modern wellness, you truly can build the foundation for a healthy life with something as simple and as free as fidgeting.
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