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Is your NEAT holding you back?

Hadyn Luke posted this on Tuesday 10th of September 2013 Hadyn Luke 10/09/2013

Tags: Client analysis


Our blog today investigates why some people struggle to lose weight even when exercising regularly with a personal trainer and looks at whether NEAT has a role to play.

What is NEAT?

NEAT is a phrase coined by Professor James A Levine and stands for Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis. This refers to any physical activity that is not structured exercise that burns calories, including:

  • General everyday activities
  • Small muscle movements and spontaneous muscle contraction
  • Movements to maintain posture when sitting, standing or walking

NEAT and weight loss

How active we are during normal daily life can be as relevant to weight loss goals as sessions carried out in the gym. Indeed there can be a wide disparity between the NEAT of two different people.

For example, those who don’t follow structured exercise but are generally active through the day – restaurant staff, cleaners, manual labourers – may burn more calories than a regular gym goer with a sedentary desk job.

Why do some people struggle to lose weight?

Many people achieve their health and fitness targets, including weight management, by following a structured exercise programme with a personal trainer or attending organised classes led by a fitness instructor.

However, some individuals struggle to achieve the weight loss that would normally be expected having increased their total energy expenditure (TEE) by working out at the gym or following a fitness class.

An article in the Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine (2011) entitled “Exercise Intensity Influences Nonexercise Activity Thermogenesis in Overweight and Obese Adults”, by M Alahmadi, A Hills, N King and N Byrne, states that:

“One possible cause of this is compensation for the energy expenditure during the exercise sessions through a reduction in energy expenditure from nonexercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT).”

In other words, an intensive work out with a personal trainer may cause a gym goer to be less active in the hours and months that follow than they might otherwise have been.

Studies into NEAT

The studies that have been done into the effects of structured exercise on NEAT have come to varying conclusions. In some cases they have shown that NEAT is reduced following structured exercise, either on the day or on the following day. However, the findings are not consistent and the factors deciding these results need further investigation.

Structured exercise

Ideally, those who follow a structured exercise programme with a personal trainer will also continue to be active during the rest of the day to optimise their NEAT.

A fitness instructor can recommend various ways to achieve this, such as:

  • Walking to work or to the shops instead of driving
  • Taking the stairs rather than the escalator
  • Standing up to stretch and taking a walk around the office
  • Going out during lunch breaks instead of eating at a desk

Even a few additional calorie burning activities each day will add up over the course of weeks and months and, along with following a structured exercise programme with a personal trainer, should lead to better overall results.

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