How Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) Supports Weight Management

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Key Takeaways

  • Everyday exercises like cleaning the house expend energy and burn calories, just like regular exercise.
  • These activities are referred to as “non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT),” and they usually account for about 15% of your total energy expenditure.
  • Increasing NEAT can be a helpful weight management tool for people for whom diet and exercise aren’t good options, experts said.

There’s no doubt that exercise can better your health, but cardio workouts and circuit training aren’t the only activities during which your body expends energy and burns calories.

In fact, everyday chores and habits—like doing the dishes, taking out the trash, or even fidgeting—contribute to your overall activity level.

These activities contribute to a process called non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). Though most people don’t consider NEAT, it likely plays a role in maintaining your overall health.

“‘Non-exercise activity thermogenesis’ are big words that basically just mean any movement throughout your day that is not intentional exercise,” Leah Barron, RD, LD, CPT, a dietitian at The Baseline Lifestyle Co., told Verywell. “NEAT is all the energy we use to move around throughout the day that does not include energy used for purposeful exercise.”

NEAT ends up contributing to a significant chunk of our activity. “This makes up about 15% of our total energy expenditure,” Barron said.

As such, healthcare providers often endorse NEAT as a way for people to prioritize their well-being. “Given its potential for weight management and general health improvement, strategies to increase NEAT are often recommended to integrate more physical activities into day-to-day routines,” Matthew Kampert, DO, director of Exercise Medicine for Endocrinology and Metabolism at Cleveland Clinic, told Verywell.

These activities may be helpful to people who have difficulty managing their weight through diet and exercise. “Increasing NEAT is a great health-promoting goal for someone who does not like to exercise or does not have access to the time, space, or equipment to exercise,” Barron said.

Implementing more NEAT can also help with obesity or overweight, conditions that increase the risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, some types of cancer, and more.

How Your Body Expends Energy

Along with NEAT, there are three other components that make up your total energy expenditure, Barron said:

  • Basal metabolic rate (BMR)
  • Exercise activity thermogenesis (EAT)
  • Thermic effect of food (TEF)

“BMR is the amount of energy it takes your body to keep you alive while completely at rest,” Barron said. “So if you were to lie in bed all day and never move, your body would still need a certain amount of energy to maintain all your bodily processes like brain and heart function.” Even though most people don’t equate staying in bed with expending energy, “BMR makes up about 70% of your total energy expenditure,” Barron explained.

EAT refers to the energy we use performing intentional exercises, such as taking a spin class or visiting the gym. “For most people, this makes up about 5% of our total energy expenditure,” Barron said. “[But] this will obviously vary for the individual depending on the amount of exercise they do.”

The amount of energy required for your body to digest the food you eat is called the TEF, Barron said. “This makes up about 10% of your total energy expenditure, [though] different foods require different amounts of energy to digest, so foods higher in protein and fiber will require more energy, while foods lower in fiber and protein will require less,” Barron said.

How much energy you spend on NEAT depends on your habits: “Somebody who tends to live a pretty sedentary lifestyle will use a lot less energy for NEAT than someone with a more active lifestyle,” Barron said.

How NEAT Impacts Your Health

Though you may not even think about NEAT as you go about your day, the activities it encompasses significantly affect your health.

This is especially true for people with overweight or obesity. “Depending on the individual, increasing NEAT could definitely have a positive impact on weight and health,” Barron said. “Our [BMR] and the [TEF] both tend to be fairly stable, so increasing physical activity through NEAT and/or purposeful exercise is the most efficient way to increase total energy expenditure.”

NEAT impacts your health in various ways: “NEAT plays a significant role in sustained weight loss and management through several mechanisms,” Kampert said. “By increasing NEAT through simple activities like walking or standing, individuals can expend more calories without engaging in structured exercise, [and] NEAT helps maintain a higher metabolic rate, even at rest, by incorporating more movement into daily routines.”

NEAT often involves behavioral changes that help you sustain a more active lifestyle, which is “crucial for long-term weight management,” Kampert added.

It can be helpful to think about increasing NEAT in three different areas of your life, Kampert said.

At work, you could:

  • Use a standing desk, if possible.
  • Take short, active breaks throughout the day.
  • Implement walking meetings when possible.
  • Take the stairs instead of using an elevator.

At home, you can:

  • Engage in household chores.
  • Make a habit of gardening or develop other habits that require physical activity.
  • Establish set times to play with your children or pets.

During your day-to-day life, you can:

  • Park further away from the entrance when you drive somewhere.
  • Walk or take your bike when you aren’t going long distances.
  • Take public transportation that involves walking, rather than a car, when going longer distances.

Additionally, it can be helpful to wear a fitness tracker that allows you to set reminders to move throughout the day, Kampert said.

What This Means For You

Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) refers to any activity you do that isn’t exercise, like walking around your house, playing with your children, or doing household chores. These activities play a significant role in energy expenditure—and burning calories. Increasing NEAT can help people with obesity and overweight, and this may be especially beneficial for people who have a difficult time managing their weight through traditional exercise methods.

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Chung N, Park MY, Kim J, et al. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT): a component of total daily energy expenditure. J Exerc Nutrition Biochem. 2018;22(2):23-30. doi:10.20463/jenb.2018.0013.

  2. National Institutes of Health (NIH). Overweight & obesity statistics. September 2021.

Maggie O'Neill

By Maggie O'Neill
O’Neill is a reporter who covers new medical research and addiction. She previously worked at SELF magazine and, and she was a 2020 fellow at the Association of Health Care Journalists.