Using simple tips to increase your day to day movement, you may be able to burn 350 calories more a day.You know you need to get more exercise and burn a few more calories, but you just don’t have enough time! Between work, family and the rest of life, at the end of the day you’re exhausted with no desire to work out. Never fear, we have the answer for you and it’s one word.


Or actually an acronym, Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. This is the energy you use when you’re not sleeping, or eating or doing sports-like activities. The calories you burn when you’re fidgeting, or cooking, or walking to the corner store, or just standing up. It almost sounds too good to be true, but studies* show that increasing this form of energy- expenditure or calorie burning on a daily basis, may have a more significant long-term impact than working out three times a week.

Phil Tygiel of Tygiel Physical Therapy explains, “Getting enough activity wasn’t as big an issue for our grandparents and great grandparents as it is for us today. Our grandparents lived before the advent of computers, TV remotes and instant communication. They had to move around more back then than we do now. Without knowing it they were practicing non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), a concept that we are now discovering to be valuable.

The result of modern inactivity has been an epidemic of obesity and resultant increases in preventable diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular problems.  Exercise and daily walks can go a long way to prevent those problems. For those who don’t have the time or desire to exercise, NEAT may do the job just as well, maybe even better.”

Dr. James Levine at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale has researched this idea extensively Tygiel explains, “Mayo clinic researchers discovered that long-term weight control may be easier to maintain by focusing less on exercise and more on increasing non-exercise energy expenditure.  Examples of NEAT activities include the maintenance of posture (standing up), activities of daily living, and even fidgeting. It has been found that a person of normal weight can typically burn 350 or more calories per day just from the collective impact of numerous small activities and movements. Burning 350 calories per day is equivalent to burning about 30 pounds of fat in one year. That can be a major factor in long-term weight control.”

Director of Wellness at Tucson Medical Center, Mary Atkinson RD shares that  “the concept of being active versus exercising is one that we really push in our programs. We try to help all of our participants find ways of including more movement in their day even if it is just 5 or 10 minutes here and there.” (You can find more out about our Live Well Tucson program by emailing

Have a pedometer? Try this experiment:

Wear your pedometer all day from the time you get up until you go to bed and record the number of steps.

Day One – normal activity, no working out
Day Two – normal activity plus a 30minute – 45 minute work out
Day Three – modified normal activity, stand rather than sit at your desk to work (you don’t need a fancy standing desk for this, just use a cabinet), take the stairs rather than the elevator, walk to talk to your colleague rather than email, no working out etc.
What do you notice? How does the number of steps taken each day compare?

Our personal experiences suggested that we moved twice as much on Day 3 than on Day 1. Of course, if you add in a work out to the additional movement that’s even better!

Research by Dr. Levine et. al. found “ Obese individuals appear to exhibit an innate tendency to be seated for 2.5 hours per day more than sedentary lean counterparts. If obese individuals were to adopt the lean “NEAT-o-type,” they could potentially expend an additional 350 kcal per day.”

That is – even if two individuals have similar sedentary lifestyles, go to an office job each day and don’t work out, and have similar food intakes, the overweight individual is, on average, sitting and moving less 2.5 hours a day more than their fellow lean sedentary colleague.

So what can we do to sit less and move more?

Phil Tygiel gives us a few tips:

NEAT Standing Desk Hack ideas1. Work at a standing desk if possible. If you work at home try putting your laptop on your kitchen counter.

2. If you have a desk job, every hour, take a five-minute break and walk around or, at the very least stand up and stretch.  Don’t sit still.  Move around in your chair a lot.  Fidget for the fun of it.

3. Replace sitting with standing at every opportunity. Text and talk on the phone while standing. Read your mail standing.  When you think of it you can turn many sitting activities to standing ones.

4. Instead of text messaging or emailing coworkers walk over to their workstation and deliver the message in person.

5. Take a walk at lunchtime if you have a desk job — even a 10 or 15-minute walk can make a difference.

6. Incorporate standing and moving in social activities.  At parties, drink standing up for as long as you can.

7. If you are playing video games play them standing up rather than sitting on the couch.

8. Avoid elevators and take the stairs. Park farther away from the door or mall entrance.

You’ll be amazed at how much difference these small changes can make for you, your family, your employees and your co-workers, so don’t just sit there.  Get moving!

Have you tried a standing desk? Tell us about your experience.

Levine JA1Vander Weg MWHill JOKlesges RC.,Non-exercise activity thermogenesis: the crouching tiger hidden dragon of societal weight gain.Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2006 Apr;26(4):729-36. Epub 2006 Jan 26.

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