What is N.E.AT.? And Why It’s Important for Your Health

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September 30, 2019


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One study after another confirms the many benefits of regular exercise in managing or preventing serious chronic conditions, including heart disease and many types of cancers. But most people don’t realize that any single episode of activity can be healthy if it breaks up long sessions of sitting at a workstation, lounging in front of a TV or being stuck in a car ride for a long time.

Simple activities, such as going for a walk or climbing stairs, to break up sessions of nonactivity even has a scientific name — NEAT — which stands for “non-exercise activity thermogenesis.” Incorporating NEAT on a daily basis has been linked to lower body weight, better overall health and increased lifespan.

Thermogenesis refers to production of heat in the human body. And that’s what happens when you exercise. But it doesn’t just happen when you run a mile or lift weights at the gym. It also happens when you decide to get up and walk your dog, or go for a brisk stroll, or mow your lawn, or climb stairs instead of taking the elevator.

“Move more and sit less” whenever possible was the key message recently when the U.S. government updated its minimum exercise guidelines to help adults, and their kids achieve the many health benefits of regular physical activity. The exercise recommendations for U.S. adults did not change. For substantial health benefits, adults should undertake at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of “moderate-intensity,” or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of “vigorous-intensity,” aerobic physical activity.

But then there’s NEAT and avoiding the inescapable trap faced by many office workers — too much sitting. A recent study found that a quarter of Americans sit for more than eight hours a day. And less than a quarter of Americans meet the minimum U.S. exercise recommendations.

Every movement counts is the message that adults of all ages need to understand, said Theodore Feldman, M.D., medical director of prevention and community health at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute.

“The most important thing is you have to move and anything you do to move counts within that context (of getting your daily exercise) and within that framework, there are lots of different ways to go about it,” says Dr. Feldman. “So, what I tell people is to take ten-minute breaks, in the morning, in the middle of the day and at night. Take a walk around the block and take your dog. People who walk their dogs live longer than people who don’t.

Feldman stresses a recent study that found even “weekend warriors” — those who exercise only on Saturdays and Sundays — are healthier than those who don’t meet the minimum physical activity guidelines. Researchers looked at the activity levels and death rates of 3,438 people, with an average age of 57, over a period of nearly seven years. They found that those who crammed their physical activities — whether it be cycling, playing sports, jogging or other activity into just one or two days a week enjoyed the same health benefits as those who got their activity in smaller doses on weekdays.

“Do something during the week if you can,” says Dr. Feldman. “And then on the weekend, when you do have time, it’s been shown now that you can get about 90 percent of the benefit of the minimum recommendations.”

Key Guidelines for Adults
Some physical activity is better than none. Adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity gain some health benefits, according to the latest physical activity guidelines from the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

• For substantial health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week.

• Additional health benefits are gained by engaging in physical activity beyond the equivalent of 300 minutes (5 hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity a week.

• Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity and that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.

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