Our society promotes a very sedentary lifestyle. We sit at work, on our commutes, while at school, during meals, and to relax. In the US, we can even sit while we wait for our groceries to be brought to our car and in the drive through bank or pharmacy. Not only are we sitting more and more, but we are also decreasing our non-exercise activity thermogenesis, also referred to as our NEAT.
Despite our sedentary environment, we have many ways to help decrease our overall lack of movement. Active sitting is one of these solutions.
What is NEAT?
Non-exercise activity refers to the activities you complete outside of your exercise routine. This can include walking around the grocery store, using the stairs, gardening, and even fidgeting. Thermogenesis refers to burning calories, or using energy.
Together, non-exercise activity thermogenesis refers to the amount of calories you burn, or the amount of energy you use to complete activities outside of your exercise routine.
There are 3 components that make up NEAT. This includes body posture, ambulation, and all other movements, the most impactful being fidgeting.¹ How you hold yourself, how much you walk, and how much you fidget play a significant role in your NEAT.
Why does NEAT matter?
NEAT matters most when you live a very sedentary lifestyle. This includes being desk bound at work. A sitting body does not expend very much energy. Therefore, excess calories, or energy, becomes stored in our body as excess weight.
These excess calories, resulting in increasing bodyweight, overtime can lead to obesity. And obesity is associated with the leading causes of preventable deaths, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some cancers.
By simply increasing your NEAT, you can be saving your life.
According to Dr. James Levine, the director of the Mayo Clinic at Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative, obesity was rare a century ago. The only thing that has really changed is an increase in sedentary jobs and the overall chair-enticing environment.
To test this, researchers gave volunteers an extra 1,000 calories a day for 56 days. Some of the participants did not gain weight while others did. The difference between the volunteers? Their amount of NEAT. Some had the ability to switch on their NEAT while others continued to stay seated as they overeat. The end result? The extra calories turned into body fat.²
For example, someone who is desk bound for a typical work day of 8 hours will burn around 300 calories from NEAT. Someone who has a more active job such as a waitress will burn around 1,300 calories from NEAT in an 8 hour work day. That is a difference of 1,000 calories a day. Overtime this adds up to either the employee becoming obese or staying within an appropriate, healthy weight.³
It is really your NEAT that makes up a good bulk of your energy expenditure each day. It can range from 15% of our total energy expenditure, up to as much as 50% in the fidgety, active people.² Even just standing or lightly walking can increase your NEAT by 350 kcal per day.¹ Adding slightly more movement to your everyday activities can improve your life exponentially.
Dr. Levine states:
“NEAT is the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise. It ranges from the energy expended walking to work, typing, performing yard work, undertaking agricultural tasks and fidgeting. Even trivial physical activities increase metabolic rate substantially and it is the cumulative impact of a multitude of exothermic actions that culminate in an individual’s daily NEAT.”
How does active sitting help?
Many office workers spend up to 90% of their work day seated!⁵ Active sitting, which is exactly what it sounds like, offers a way of letting employees move and use their muscles while also staying productive at their desks.
Opposite of sitting still, active sitting will increase the use of your musculoskeletal and balance systems. While working more and more muscles to help maintain good posture and balance, you will also be increasing your NEAT.
Some chairs used for active sitting, like the Symbiotic Chair, include a balancing mechanism, meaning that you get to use your own muscles to help stay balanced and in control of the chair. As you reach forwards, turn around, or during any other movement, you will work your core muscles to help you move in the chair while the chair follows you to help keep you supported.
You could even consider active sitting as a way of fidgeting in your seat. And we all know how well fidgeting works to increase your NEAT, keeping you healthy and free from gaining extra weight.
Active sitting simply encourages better posture and more movement when compared to a traditional office chair. Your core, hips, and even your shoulder muscles work harder during active sitting, not only increasing your NEAT, but maybe even your strength.
Although you may not burn as many calories as you would during an hour at the gym, the increase in movement while sitting on a dynamic chair will promote an increase in your NEAT. Research has found that active, or dynamic sitting, in a chair that has a tilting, balance mechanism, allows users to perform the equivalent of light physical activity while sitting.⁶
NEAT is a very simple and natural human phenomenon that is sometimes forgotten about in our sedentary world. Use NEAT to your advantage, helping you to stay within a healthy body weight while avoiding so many other lifestyle diseases. If you find yourself having trouble with adding movement throughout your day, try an active sitting chair while you sit at your desk. You may be surprised by the full body benefits.
Author: Adria Biasi
Author is US based Doctor of Physical Therapy and Board Certified Orthopedic Specialist
3) Kelly Starrett, Deskbound, Standing Up to a Sitting World (Victoria Belt Publishing Inc., 2016): 18-19