NEAT: Is it Important to Lose Weight?

NEAT: Is it Important to Lose Weight?

Today, we are going to talk about a concept that will probably sound familiar, if not, you will learn something new today: NEAT

NEAT, What is it?

It literally means “Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis”.

Got it?

That may be too much to start off, so let’s go back a little to understand what this means.

What is the energy balance?

The energy balance is the relation between the energy intake (usually from food) and the amount of energy we spend.

This relation has been named CICO theory (Calories IN -> Calories OUT) and it is the hierarchical model that determines the mid-term changes in fatty mass and muscle mass.

However, even though EVERYTHING is reduced to the CICO theory, there are a series of factors that affect this process.

CICO Theory

That is why I personally prefer the concept “energy status”.

Above all, the CICO theory is the basis of any mid-term body weight change:

CI > CO = Weight gain| CI < CO = Weight loss

However, there are many factors that affect the balance between the energy input and output. That is why I believe it is more accurate to call it energy status. The following image is a simple way of illustrating the differences between both concepts.

CICO model

Figure I. CICO in two different contexts: A mechanical model (calorimeter bomb) and a holistic model (human).

Where do we get calories from?

Exclusively from food (except for patients with parenteral nutrition).

Even though some people believe that we would survive just with water and sunlight that is far from truth. We lack the ability to synthesize our own energy.

If it was that simple, nobody would die of hunger. It is actually quite stupid if we put it that way, right?

How do we spend our calories?

We are almost done with the background and you will soon understand what NEAT actually is.

To put is simply, our energy expenditure is a combination of:

  • Resting energy expenditure (mistakenly known as basal metabolic rate).
  • Energy expenditure due to activity.
  • Thermic effect of food (you can read more here).
  • Other marginal energy expenditure (such as emotional fluctuations).

During a specific period of time.

Determinants of total daily expenditure

Figure II. Determinants of the total daily energy expenditure (TDEE); BMR: Basal metabolic rate; REE: Resting energy expenditure; NEAT: Non-exercise activity thermogenesis; EAT: Exercise activity thermogenesis; TEF: Thermic effect of food; NREE: Non-resting energy expenditure. (Trexler, Smith-Ryan, y Norton, 2014).

The resting energy expenditure is REE (mistakenly labeled as BMR in the image), the thermic effect of food would be TEF and the exercise activity thermogenesis is… There are two terms left, right? And they are quite similar…

EAT & NEAT

Time to talk about EAT and NEAT, two factors that make up our energy expenditure due to activity.

EAT equals Exercise Activity Thermogenesis and NEAT is Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis

The difference lies in determining the concept “exercise“.

The first thing you will learn in the Degree of Physical Activity and Sports Science is the difference between physical activity and physical exercise (and sport):

  • A physical activity is a group of actions that cause an energy expenditure due to produce the musculoskeletal contraction and movement.
  • Physical exercise is a planned physical activity that is used to improve one or several aspects of our physical condition.
Let’s illustrate this point with an example:
  • “I am going to miss the bus and I run 200m so that I will not have to wait for the next one” = Physical Activity.
  • “I want to improve my cardio-respiratory capacities and to do so, I have to run sets of 200m today” = Physical Exercise.

EAT is the energy expenditure during physical exercise, while NEAT is the energy expenditure of the rest of physical activity.

That is better right? The Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis makes sense now.

Is NEAT the future?

NEAT is not that essential, it is not a breach in the system…

Even if you find titles such as the following one:

NEAT, the ultimate strategy to lose weight!

It does not matter, if your CI- is higher than your -CO, you will keep gaining weight. These titles are only meant to mislead the readers.

How can we measure our NEAT?

The real NEAT can be measured with a simple equation that involves complex estimations of the resting energy expenditure, the physical activity thermogenesis, the calorimeter after eating in order to determine the TEF…

Why so complex?

Because… How do you measure the energy expenditure of clapping, laughing, a nervous tic…? That is also NEAT.

To make things simple, NEAT is usually measured with an accelerometer or a pedometer (number of daily steps).

Steps

For example, the time we spend walking is the main factor that contributes to our daily NEAT.

We need to take into account that, even though it will be useful to be precise, those who try to adjust the equations too much will have issues. This is due to the fact that there is a margin of error.

Why has NEAT become so popular?

Because we know that the physical activity is an important factor when it comes to preventing premature morbidity.

Currently, we are witnessing the biggest increase in obese people worldwide.

All the regions of the world (except for Central Africa and Southern Asia) are experiencing this phenomenon

The information is concerning: in Spain, almost a 70% of male adults and a 50% of female adults suffered obesity and overweight in 2014-2015.

obesity % in adults

Figure III. obesity % (red) and overweight % (blue) of adults in Spain (year 2014-2015). Retrieved from https://www.worldobesitydata.org/translated-summary-country-cards/

But things look equally grim when we look at children: between 30 and 35% of children suffered obesity and overweight in 2015-2016.

Obesity % in children

Figure IV. obesity % (red) and overweight % (blue) of children in Spain (year 2015-2016). Retrieved from https://www.worldobesitydata.org/translated-summary-country-cards/

Moreover, the numbers do not improve at all: the last epidemiological report by the group PREFITH, Cadenas-Sánchez et al. (2019) confirmed that between a 21.4-34.8% of children (<5 years) were obese in Spain.

These are the facts…

Age and body mass index

Figure V. Relation between age (axis X) and body mass index (axis Y), in boys (left) and girls (right) under 5 years of age in Spain. The tendency lines represent the percentiles of the sample. (Cadenas-Sánchez et al., 2019).

Stop obesity

Since time immemorial, obesity is a metabolopathy that triggers others such as: type II Mellitus Diabetes, dyslipidemia that can cause cardiovascular problems, endothelial damage and vascular diseases regardless of the lipid profile, heart failure, neurodegeneration due to lipotoxicity…

Being obese is a premature death sentence. Do you think that I am being too dramatic?

“In fact, obesity is one of the most important risk factors that increase the morbidity and premature mortality. Consequently, it consequences are a worse quality of life, disability and an average of 7 years less of life expectancy.”

Von Loeffelholz and Birkenfeld, 2000

Reducing the adipose tissue and, specially, controlling our own weight is key for our survival.

Risk of mortality and cardiovascular disease

Figure VI. Risk of mortality for cardiovascular problems between BMI quintiles (left), body fat % (center) and fat mass index (right). Taken from Ortega et al. (2016).

Yes, I said body weight, because the BMI is still the best way to predict the mortality for all these causes. In fact, it is even more sensitive than the body fat percentage.

Then, what is the best way to prevent obesity?

Eating less and moving more.

The World Health Organization knows this. That is why all the current advice is to do 150 minutes of physical exercise a week at a moderate intensity. Or you can do 75 minutes of physical exercise a week at a high intensity.

Put on your trainers and let’s go to the gym!

But, apart from standard physical exercise, there are other ways to follow an active lifestyle. This is where NEAT comes into play.

10000 steps a day

Tudor-Locke and Bassett (2004) established that a person should walk 10000 steps a day in order to call themselves “active”. 10000 steps a day…

If your work consists of sitting in the office the whole day, it may be difficult to reach that number of steps. You may even be closer to look like a London bus driver.

Check this out:

Morris et al. (1953) started a entire revolution: Morris was the father of the relation between the physical activity and risk of mortality.

He (and his colleagues) believed that being physically inactive was a contributing factor for potentially lethal pathologies. That is why they…

1. Look into all the public transport in London.

London bus driver

2. Recruited a total of 31 000 workers (conductors and drivers)

3. Controlled them for a few years.

The result? Drivers died an average of 1.5 times more than conductors. The former spent most of the day sitting, while the others walked around the buses, climbed stairs and spent most of the day standing.

Drivers and conductors mortality

Figure VII. Rate of annual deaths per 1000 subjects. Drivers (first chart), Conductors (second chart). (Morris and Oxfd, 1953).

The conductors had an extremely high NEAT, while the drivers… did not.

Move more!

The 10 000 steps a day is the threshold at which any other cause can significantly increase the risk of mortality. So, stay active and go for that NEAT!
  • Take the dog for a walk
  • Climb the stairs
  • Go biking to work
  • Do the chores
  • Laugh a lot throughout the day

Your health (and your abs) will definitely be grateful!

Conclusions

  • NEAT is the calorie expenditure during a physical activity that is not specifically designed to improve the physical condition.
  • Moreover, it is one of the two components of the energy expenditure due to physical activity and it is a factor that significantly counts for the daily energy expenditure.
  • The threshold between active/inactive are 10 000 steps a day.
  • Do not forget that walking is not enough, you need to do moderate/intense physical activity to improve your health. There is nothing better that grabbing a barbell and doing some squats!
Have you heard about the Beatman Performance Training? Why don't you have a look?.

Put on your trainers and go for it!

Bibliography

Study 1-5

  1. Blair, S. N. (1989). Physical fitness and all-cause mortality. A prospective study of healthy men and women. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 262(17), 2395–2401.
  2. Blair, S. N., Kohl, H. W., Barlow, C. E., Gibbons, L. W., Paffenbarger, R. S., & Macera, C. A. (1995). Changes in Physical Fitness and All-Cause Mortality: A Prospective Study of Healthy and Unhealthy Men. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 273(14), 1093–1098.
  3. Cadenas-Sanchez, C., Intemann, T., Labayen, I., Artero, E. G., Alvarez-Bueno, C., Sanchis-Moysi, J., … Ortega, F. B. (2019). Prevalence of severe/morbid obesity and other weight status and anthropometric reference standards in Spanish preschool children: The PREFIT project. Pediatric Research.
  4. Chung, N., Park, M.-Y., Kim, J., Park, H.-Y., Hwang, H., Lee, C.-H., … Lim, K. (2018). Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT): a component of total daily energy expenditure. Journal of Exercise Nutrition & Biochemistry, 22(2), 23–30.
  5. Kokkinos, P., Sheriff, H., & Kheirbek, R. (2011). Physical inactivity and mortality risk. Cardiology Research and Practice, 1(1), 924945.

Study 6-11

  1. Lee, D. chul, Artero, E. G., Sui, X., & Blair, S. N. (2010). Mortality trends in the general population: the importance of cardiorespiratory fitness. Journal of Psychopharmacology (Oxford, England), 24(4 Suppl), 27–35.
  2. Morris, J. N., & Oxfd, M. A. (1953). Physical Activity of Work. Transport, 21(6795), 1111–1120.
  3. Ortega, F. B., Sui, X., Lavie, C. J., & Blair, S. N. (2016). Body Mass Index, the Most Widely Used but Also Widely Criticized Index Would a Criterion Standard Measure of Total Body Fat Be a Better Predictor of Cardiovascular Disease Mortality? Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 91(4), 443–455.
  4. Trexler, E. T., Smith-Ryan, A. E., & Norton, L. E. (2014). Metabolic adaptation to weight loss: Implications for the athlete. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1), 7.
  5. Tudor-Locke, C., &amp; Bassett, D. R. (2004). How Many Steps/Day Are Enough? Preliminary Pedometer Indices for Public Health. Sports Medicine, 34(1), 1–8.
  6. Von Loeffelholz C, Birkenfeld A (2000). The Role of Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis in Human Obesity. In: Feingold KR, Anawalt B, Boyce A, et al., editors. Endotext [Internet]. South Dartmouth (MA): MDText.com.

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About Alfredo Valdés
Alfredo Valdés
A specialist in Pathophysiology and biomolecular effects on nutrition and sportive activity who will show you the elaborate world of sports nutrition in his articles, employing a simple and critical writing.
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