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What Is the Most Important Factor in Losing Weight?

The beginning of the new year is usually associated with new resolutions. And it’s probably no surprise that most resolutions are related to body improvements and weight loss. Are you also one of the people who have been unsuccessfully trying to lose some weight for several years, and it resulted in only gaining weight every year? Then maybe it’s time to make changes in your life that will really help you. And you may be surprised that just a little is enough for the number on your scale to finally start going down.

Have you ever heard of the acronym NEAT? If not, pay close attention. What lies behind it will finally help you understand the secret of weight loss and also explain why your friend can eat SO much food without gaining any weight, while you, on the other hand, have to think about almost every bite to maintain your weight.

What makes up your total daily energy expenditure

The energy that you intentionally or unintentionally expend during the day can be classified into 4 categories. Each of them contributes to our expenditure to a different extent. However, it can be roughly said that BMR (basal metabolism) has the largest share in the expenditure. It is about 60-75% of the total energy expenditure. Approximately 15% are NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis), 10% TEF (thermic effect of food) and 5% EAT (exercise-related activities). And what do these mysterious abbreviations actually mean? [3] [8]

1. Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) – this figure represents the number of calories that our body burns at rest to maintain basic life functions. These calories therefore keep your heart, lungs, nervous system, kidneys, intestines, genitals, muscles, etc. active. An easy way to estimate the value of your basal metabolism without laboratory tests is to use a formula for calculation. One of the most accurate ways, if you don’t know the percentage of your body fat, is to use the Mifflin-St Jeor formula. If you do know this value, you can use, for example, the Katch-McArdle formula. However, the easiest way for you will be to enter the values ​​into our BMR calculator, which will do the calculation for you. BMR value is affected by many factors, such as your age or body composition. [1]

You can read more about how to calculate the BMR value in the article How to Calculate Energy and Macronutrient Intake for Weight Loss or Muscle Gain?

2. Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) – this is the energy that your body needs to process the food. It is also necessary to take into consideration that each macronutrient has a different thermic effect. Protein has the highest thermic effect, namely about 20-30%. This means that out of 100 calories, only about 70-80 kcal is absorbed into the body, depending on the type of protein. It is not as good with carbs. Their thermic effect is somewhere between 5-10%, and fats with a range of 0-3%. [2] [5]

3. Exercise-related Activity Thermogenesis (EAT) – this is the number of calories your body spends during exercise. This includes all physical activities that you do, such as strength training, HIIT or any cardio. [3]

4. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) – this is the number of calories your body burns during non-exercise activities. This includes, for example, walking to get yourself a drink, tapping your foot nervously, combing your hair and so on. [3]

How to lose weight

Why NEAT might be the key to weight loss?

Even though you may not believe it, your expenditure during the day can be greatly affected by small things that you do not normally pay attention to. The very position in which you spend most of your day has a significant effect, so whether you spend the day lying down, sitting down, or standing still makes a difference. Let’s look at the example of an 80 kg (176 lbs) student who spends 6 hours a day studying.

  • In the first example, he studies lying down in silence while reading some educational book. He burns approximately 624 kcal (including BMR) during this time period.
  • In the second example, he repeats everything out loud while sitting and tapping his feet. His expenditure can reach up to 864 kcal (including BMR) during the same time period.
  • In the third example, he speaks out loud and walks around the flat, throws a ball or does another similar activity that helps him concentrate and talk about the topic. He burns approximately 1056 kcal (including BMR) during this time period. [10]

At first glance, the difference may not be so significant, but if to take into consideration that this student will study during the exam period for at least 3 weeks (5 days a week above mentioned 6 hours), in lying down position he would burn a total of 9360 kcal, 12960 kcal while sitting down and 15840 kcal while standing up. The difference between standing up and lying down position is 6480 kcal. Therefore, if the student changes the position in which he studies from lying down to standing up, he can burn almost 1 kilogram (2.2 lbs) of fat in 3 weeks of studying, as that is the equivalent to 7700 kcal. And that seems to be worth it, doesn’t it?

In addition to the reward in the form of weight loss, you will certainly be pleased with the higher efficiency of your learning. When talking out loud, you will perceive the subject matter with more than one of your senses and you will master it faster and thanks to a greater supply of oxygen it will be also easier to remember it. [7]

How to lose weight easily taking advantage of NEAT

Higher NEAT can reduce the amount of fat and improve your health

Even researchers came to similar results as are shown in the student’s example above. The relationship between fat gained due to insufficient energy expenditure through NEAT was demonstrated, for example, in a study with twenty volunteers (10 lean and 10 obese). Participants were exposed to a similar environment, examining their posture and movement to assess NEAT. They engaged in their normal daily activities and did not exercise. The results showed that obese individuals sat more, specifically 2.5 hours longer. In addition, the researchers found that if obese individuals performed the same NEAT activities as lean ones, i.e. if they did not spend this time sitting down, their expenditure would increase by 350 kcal per day. [6] [9]

However, a slimmer body is not the only benefit you get if you engage in more non-exercise activities. By adapting a more active lifestyle, you will reduce the risk of chronic diseases, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, etc. However, if none of these diseases bother you, weight loss can be the main motivation for being more active. [11–12]

How much of a caloric deficit can occur due to NEAT?

You probably won’t be surprised that the day has 24 hours. In perfect example, a person will sleep through 8 hours of it. That makes 16 hours left, which are crucial if you are trying to lose weight. It is up to each of you how to use them. Let’s take a closer look at the example of 2 women – Jane and Lucy. Jane is unhappy because she would like to lose a couple of pounds, but unfortunately, she doesn’t seem to be able to achieve that. She quietly envies Lucy, who can indulge in whatever she wants and does not gain any weight. How is it possible? Well, let’s suppose they both weigh 65 kg (143 lbs) and eat the same food. To what extent can their average daily expenditure differ?

Let’s look at a simplified example:

Jane

  • sleep (8 hours) – 494 kcal
  • getting ready for work, preparing breakfast and meals for the whole day, some light cleaning of the flat (1 hour) – 143 kcal
  • travelling to work (15 min walk, 30 min bus ride) – 83 kcal
  • office work at the computer (8 hours) – 780 kcal
  • trip from work (15 min walk, 30 min bus ride) – 83 kcal
  • running at a speed of 8 km/h (40 min) – 360 kcal
  • lying in front of the TV in the evening (3 hours) – 195 kcal
  • other activities such as eating, taking a shower and other undemanding activities (2 hours) – 286 kcal [10]

Jane’s total expenditure, including basal metabolism, could be approximately 2424 kcal for the whole day.

Lucy

  • sleep (8 hours) – 494 kcal
  • getting ready for work, preparing breakfast and meals for the whole day, some light cleaning of the flat (1 hour) – 143 kcal
  • fast walk to work (45 min) – 244 kcal
  • doing her work – housemaid (8 hours) – 2080 kcal
  • fast walk from work (45 min) – 244 kcal
  • jogging at a speed of 8 km/h (1 hour) – 637 kcal
  • garden work (1.5 hours) – 487 kcal
  • household cleaning (1 hour) – 214 kcal
  • other activities such as eating, taking a shower and other undemanding activities (1 hour) – 143 kcal
  • reading while lying in bed (1 hour) – 85 kcal [10]

Lucy’s total expenditure, including basal metabolism, could be approximately 4277 kcal for the whole day.

How to create a caloric deficit using NEAT

Sure, Lucy’s example is a bit exaggerated, and most of us probably don’t have that much free time to be so active, but what was meant by that? When Jane and Lucy meet for a coffee and talk about their lifestyle, they can think that their physical activity is about the same – they both go to work, they both take care of the household, and both even go jogging. Based on this information, Jane may get the impression that Lucy has miraculous genetic predispositions, thanks to which she can eat whatever she wants and not gain any weight. However, that is not the case. It’s just that Lucy has a large expenditure thanks to non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). In general, it is necessary to realize that people who have a manual labour job and are active in their spare time often burn few extra calories than those who live a sedentary lifestyle. That’s also why more physically active people can eat more and not gain weight.

Try to think about what your day looks like compared to Lucy’s expenditure. Do you still feel that life is unfair, and you gain weight just by breathing, or have you just realized that you are probably not as active as you thought? You may also be one of the people who don’t do extra activities since they believe that having some workout is enough. Let’s face it – have you ever, instead of cleaning up or going for a walk with your family, preferred to lie down on the couch to gather some strength before a workout in the afternoon?

If you have self-critically recognized that there is room for improvement on your regular days, it is a great first step to becoming more active and losing weight more easily. You can take inspiration in our 7 tips on how to do it.

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7 tips to promote weight loss and be more active

1. Walk

There is probably no need to go into details about the fact that walking is the most natural movement for people. You’ve probably heard that everyone should walk 10,000 steps a day. If you don’t exercise and completing steps are basically the only activity you do, then this magical number may be ideal for you. A study showed that there is a part of the population with low daily activity that walks only 2000-200 steps a day. These people should try to increase this number. However, if you are active in other ways, like going to a gym, swimming or doing any other physical activity, it is not necessary to strictly adhere to daily 10,000 steps. [13]

However, you definitely shouldn’t avoid walking, as it has quite a few positive benefits. When walking, you use more than half of your body’s muscles. The degree of their involvement depends on the speed and slope of the surface. At the same time, walking will improve your physical condition, cardiovascular health and blood pressure. Moreover, this type of movement also has a positive effect on your mental health. So, the phrase “I’m going to walk it off” is definitely not just something you say. [14]

Lose weight by walking

How to implement more walking into your regular day?

  • Walk at least a part of your way to work.
  • Avoid elevators and escalators.
  • Take at least a short walk during the day. Every extra minute counts.
  • Walk to shops, lunch or to meet your friends.
  • Instead of sitting in a café, take your coffee with you and go for a walk with friends.
  • Walk when you listen to podcasts or when you are in a Zoom meeting.
  • Instead of calling, if the situation allows it, visit the person or walk around when on the phone.

There are many ways to sneak extra steps into your day. It’s up to you what you choose. To motivate you a bit – an 80 kg (176 lbs) person burns 235 kcal in 20 minutes of power walking up the stairs, not skipping any stairs, which is realistic to achieve every day. If to not take into consideration the adaptation of metabolism and other side factors, this person would burn 85775 kcal per year, and only thanks to the daily 20 minutes of power walking up the stairs. Side note – in this way he could burn energy that is the equivalent to approximately 11 kg (24 lbs) of fat. [10]

2. Help others

Surely, you have someone around you who will be happy to use your help. As a result, you both will be satisfied, even twice as much. You will increase your energy expenditure, which will make it easier for you to lose weight, and in addition, you can feel good about yourself for helping someone. Again, you have many possibilities to get involved:

Lose weight easily even without exercise
  • Babysit someone’s children. The little ones will be happy for a change, parents will get some rest, and you will spend a day in an active way – a win on all counts.
  • Walk a dog. Surely, there is someone close to you who has no time to walk so much, and their pet would love to go on a long walk. Make it happen.
  • Offer to go grocery shopping. This offer will be appreciated both by people from your local neighbourhood who can no longer go on their own, as well as by your loved ones who just don’t want to go or don’t have the time.
  • Help with a flat renovation. Any help would be appreciated for this kind of work. And scraping or painting a wall, taking away old furniture or assembling new one is something you could probably easily do.
  • Help with chores or with garden work.
  • Shovel the snow from the whole street.

Did you know that an 80 kg (176 lbs) person can burn up to 600 kcal per hour of intense snow shovelling? These volunteer activities are often available just part-time, so in addition to calories burned, you can also earn some money. [10]

3. Don’t waste your time by waiting around

Do you have friends who never arrive anywhere on time, so you spend tens of minutes just sitting around and waiting for them? Rethink your approach. Even a twenty-minute walk around your meeting place counts. You can also do the same thing when you are waiting for a bus or train which is scheduled to arrive in some time. And even if you know that it should be coming in a few minutes, you still don’t have to sit on a bench and stare blankly in front of you. You can easily walk around the actual bus stop, or you can walk to the next stop and enter the vehicle there.

4. Take care of your household

In regards to housework, people are divided into two groups – some enjoy it and can’t wait for the next opportunity to take out the vacuum cleaner, others hate it and delay it as much as possible. Ideally, until someone else does it for them. But guess who has a bigger NEAT expenditure? Yes, those who are not afraid to get their hands dirty and are willing to devote even multiple hours a week to housework. A 70 kg (154 lbs) woman burns on average approximately 210 kcal (including BMR) per hour of housework. It may seem like nothing to you, but when you consider that this handy housewife might spend even 2 hours a day doing these activities, that is 2940 kcal per week, which is energy hidden in 550 g (5.5 bars) of milk chocolate. And that sounds like a considerable amount, doesn’t it? If you regularly do active cleaning, you can easily have a couple of squares of chocolate with your coffee, and still be in calorie deficit and lose weight. So hide the robot vacuum cleaner, which does all the work for you, back in the box, give it to someone who no longer has the strength to clean it themselves, and get to work.

And if you want to increase your expenditure during cleaning, try to come up with a little cleaning workout. Intersperse individual activities with squats, push-ups or Burpees. You will see that one hour of this cleaning workout will get you sweating and if you play your favourite music in the background, you actually might even enjoy it.

How to lose weight at home without exercise

5. Do some garden work

By gardening, we definitely don’t mean you should sit on a garden tractor, which will do all the work for you (even though just by operating the tractor you will burn more energy than if you were just lying down). However, there are many more effective activities you can do in the garden. How about trying digging? Compared to lying down, your expenditure increases up to five times during this activity. An 80 kg (176 lbs) man burns 400 kcal per hour. You can also start pruning shrubs or weeding, which will increase your expenditure approximately four times. [10]

6. Work out a little whenever you can

Are you waiting for your girlfriend to finally finish occupying the bathroom in the morning? Use this time and do a few squats and push-ups. This will stimulate the blood flow in your body, and you will also slightly increase your expenditure. Just as effectively you can use a commercial break during your favourite evening film or when you are waiting for your pasta to boil. People around you may look at you strangely from the beginning, but when they see that these little things have a positive effect on your figure, they will understand it, and might even join you.

Lose weight by short home exercises

7. Lie down only at night

As we said at the beginning of the article, even whether you are lying or sitting down has a relatively significant effect on your overall energy expenditure. If you are trying to increase your NEAT, try to spend time in bed only when you are actually sleeping (about 8-9 hours). Even when watching a TV, try doing it while sitting down, and if your TV is in the kitchen, for example, or you watch a film on your laptop, you can do so while standing up and use the time to prepare food for the next day. Likewise, if you are reading or studying, it is better to spend this time sitting down to increase your expenditure. You can also sit on a fitball, which will help you to use more muscles. And there are even people who learn best when walking, so you can try that too. It’s up to you to what extent you deal with these changes. In some time, you may not even consider sitting down when riding a bus.

What is the lesson?

Just be honest with yourself. If all of your activity during the week is to drive to the gym three times a week for an hour, and you consider yourself active, you are wrong. NEAT, which represents the calories burned by normal activities outside of exercise, is a more important factor for your expenditure than the exercise itself. Of course, this does not mean that you shouldn’t bother with strength training. However, try to focus on what you do the rest of the time. A day is 24 hours long. If you spend 8 hours sleeping and 8 hours at work, it’s only up to you how you spend the remaining 8 hours. You can start by walking more, spending less time lying down, not taking a seat on a bus, getting more involved in cleaning, or helping someone around you. The possibilities are endless. Whatever you do, you will see that over time, these activities will affect both your health and body.

Sources:

[1] CJK Henry – Basal metabolic rate studies in humans: measurement and development of new equations – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16277825/

[2] Thermic Effect of Food – https://examine.com/topics/thermic-effect-of-food/

[3] Nana Chung a kol. – Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT): a component of total daily energy expenditure – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6058072/

[4] Eric T Trexler – Metabolic adaptation to weight loss: Implications for the athlete – https://www.researchgate.net/publication/260397860_Metabolic_adaptation_to_weight_loss_Implications_for_the_athlete

[5] James Hill, Wyatt, H. R., & Peters, J. C. – The Importance of Energy Balance – https://doi.org/10.17925/EE.2013.09.02.111

[6] James A Levine - Interindividual variation in posture allocation: possible role in human obesity – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15681386/

[7] Michael Prince - Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research – https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2168-9830.2004.tb00809.x

[8] Pedro A Villablanca - Nonexercise activity thermogenesis in obesity management – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25841254/

[9] James A. Levine - Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis – https://doi.org/10.1161/01.ATV.0000205848.83210.73

[10] Compedium of Physical activities – https://sites.google.com/site/compendiumofphysicalactivities/

[11] Christian von Loeffelholz, M.D. and Andreas Birkenfeld - The Role of Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis in Human Obesity – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/books/NBK279077/

[12] Jiangqi Tang, Yulyu Yeh, Michael Scarchilli, K.-L. Catherine Jen - Desk Jockey: A Device to Increase Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis in Adults – https://paahjournal.com/articles/10.5334/paah.53/

[13] Catrine Tudor-Locke a kol. - How many steps/day are enough? for adults – https://ijbnpa.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1479-5868-8-79

[14] Paul Kelly a kol. - The Health Benefits of Walking – https://doi.org/10.1108/S2044-994120170000009004