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A NEAT "New" Strategy for Weight Control
Len Kravitz, Ph.D.

Article Reviewed
Levine, J.A., Lannigham-Foster, L.M., McCrady, S.K., Krizan, C. Kane, P.H., Jensen, M.D., and Clark, M.M. (2005). Interindividual Variation in Posture Allocation: Possible Role in Human Obesity. Science, 28 January, Vol. 307, pp 584-586.

As obesity in children and adults continues to rise, there is a pressing need to recognize all contributing causes, and attempt to develop combating strategies. Clearly an inactive lifestyle and low levels of physical inactivity coupled with excessive energy intake are commonalities observed with a sizable proportion of overweight/obese children and adults in today’s society. However, a new line of research is also looking at the role that daily posture allocation, or more specifically, standing, walking and fidgeting plays with weight gain and obesity. As such, a relatively new component of energy expenditure is NEAT, which stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis (physiological process the produce heat). Some innovative researchers in this area have revealed some surprising new information.

Introducing NEAT
NEAT comprises the energy expenditure of daily activities such as standing, walking, talking and sitting––all activities that are not considered planned physical activity of a person’s daily life. To measure NEAT, previous research by the investigators included the development and validation of sensitive physical activity monitoring inclinometers and triaxial accelerometers worn on the hips and legs of the body. These devices capture data on body position and through all planes of movement 120 times a minute. The combination of this information with other laboratory measurement of energy expenditure leads to a calculation of NEAT. Previous findings by the authors indicate that changes in NEAT accompany changes in energy balance, which may be meaningful in affecting weight change.

The NEAT Study
The researchers recruited 20 healthy volunteers who had one very similar description of their planned physical activity––they did none. As quoted from the article, all subjects were self-proclaimed “couch potatoes.” Of the 20 volunteers, 5 men and 5 women had BMI measurements of 23 ± 2 kg/m2 (classifying them as lean) and 5 men and 5 women had BMI measurements of 33 ± 2 kg/m2 (classifying them as mildly obese). The authors noted that a mild obese population was selected because they were less likely to have medical impediments and orthopedic troubles as compared to a morbidly obese group. So, with each subject wearing an inclinometer and triaxial accelerometer, the researchers collected data every half-second for 10 days. The authors highlighted the incredible data acquisition aspect of the study by noting that they had 25 million data points on movement and posture for each subject after completion of the 10-day experiment.

The NEAT Study Results
With a sample population of non-exercisers, this investigation was searching for posture and movement clues why10 lean men and women varied from 10 mildly obese men and women, and they discovered some. The obese subjects were seated for 164 minutes longer each day than the lean participants. As well, the lean participants were upright for 153 minutes longer per day that the obese subjects.

Importantly, sleep times between the groups did not vary at all. The lean subjects had significantly more total body ambulatory movement, which consisted of standing and walking. In essence, the extra movement by the lean subjects averaged 352 ± 65 calories per day, which is equivalent to 36.5 lbs in one year. Exploring further, the researchers wanted to probe why there seems to be a tendency for over fat persons to sit more than lean individuals. Follow-up pilot research (exploratory or start-up research) by the authors suggests that the posture allocation differences seen with the subjects in this study may have a biological determination. Yet, if this were totally the explanation, obesity would much more likely be a consistent fabric of life, and yet the evidence shows it has been increasing dramatically the last few decades. Therefore, the authors speculate that various environmental cues (e.g. technology, transportation, computer-based worksites, portion sizes and calories in restaurant meals, low-cost fast food availability, etc.) help to better explain the differences noted in the obese and lean subjects’ NEAT values.

Bottom Line Messages to the Fitness Professional
As fitness professionals, many of us spend a great amount of time and energy designing exercise programs for clients wishing to achieve weight management changes, and we surely should continue in these efforts. However, as we all know, even with the best of intentions, inspiration, motivation and what new equipment technology can provide, not all individuals will maintain their exercise program. According to ACSM (2006), approximately 50% of people drop out of exercise within one year. Therefore, another important direction to help others attain their weight loss goals is to find ways for them to be more mobile in their daily life (see Side Bar 1). The considerable consequences are clearly seen with this study of 20 non-exercisers, with the lean men and women standing, walking and fidgeting significantly more during the day, resulting in an additional 350 calories per day expended above their obese counterparts. Helping and educating your clients to make small movement changes in their daily lives may very well contributed to some desirable profound changes in their overall weight management goals.

Side Bar I. Suggestions to Help Your Clients Be More Active During the Day
A very helpful ‘Get Active’ web site is ( Here are just a few of the many suggestions provided at this web site to help students and clients get moving and more physically active during the day:
1. Walk to work
2. Walk during your lunch hour
3. Walk instead of drive whenever you can
4. Take a family walk after dinner
5. Skate to work instead of drive
6. Mow the lawn with a push mower
7. Walk to your place of worship instead of driving
8. Walk your dog
9. Replace the Sunday drive with a Sunday walk
10. Get off a stop early and walk
11. Work and walk around the house
12. Take your dog to the park
13. Wash the car by hand
14. Run or walk fast when doing errands
15. Pace the sidelines at your kids' athletic games
16. Take wheels off your luggage
17. Walk to a co-worker's desk instead of emailing or calling them
18. Make time in your day for physical activity
19. Bike to the barbershop or beauty salon instead of driving
20. If you find it difficult to be active after work, try it before work
21. Take a walk break instead of a coffee break
22. Perform gardening and/or home repair activities
23. Avoid laborsaving devices
24. Take small trips on foot to get your body moving.
25. Play with your kids 30 minutes a day
26. Dance to music
27. Walk briskly in the mall
28. Take the long way to the water cooler
29. Take the stairs instead of the escalator
30. Go for a hike

Additional Reference:
ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription (7th ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

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