It’s no coincidence that overweight and obesity began increasing as a problem as the world became more industrialized. As what it meant to earn a living transitioned from the farm, to the factory, to the office, we’ve become more sedentary – and the consequences of our ‘advancement’ can be seen in our expanding waistlines.
Although not the only reason, one of the contributing factors to the obesity crisis is NEAT – or more precisely, a lack of it. NEAT stands for ‘non-exercise activity thermogenesis’, and it includes all the energy we expend doing things other than eating, sleeping, and sports-related (i.e. intentional) exercise. NEAT activities can include housework, like vaccuming, or walking around campus – even fidgeting in class!
Culture has a lot to do with how much NEAT you get – students, who spent most of their time in class and studying, have fairly few opportunities to build NEAT activities into their day (particularly if they ride the bus around campus because they don’t have enough time between classes to walk). In contrast, restaurant workers and manual laborers have pretty NEAT lives, since they’re on their feet and moving around most of the day.
Some evidence suggests that 30 minutes of purposeful exercise every day isn’t enough to offset the negative health consequences of being sedentary for 8 hours or more. Employers are starting to realize this, which is why some spring for standing desks and on-site gyms as part of ‘workplace wellness’ initiatives. If you aren’t lucky enough to work for one of these more progressive companies, try taking a 5 minute ‘stretch break’ every hour if you’re studying or working at the computer. You don’t have to leave your desk, but just the act of standing or walking in place can be enough to stimulate blood flow and prevent your metabolism from slowing excessively.
Got more tips for working NEAT activity into your daily life? Please share them in the comments section below!