Incidental Activity is NEAT! Here’s How to Do More of It


Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) collectively refers to any form of unstructured activity we do that expends energy. NEAT can include sleeping, grocery shopping, gardening, eating and hanging out the laundry. Whilst different activities will burn varying amounts of kilojoules, it’s important to note that NEAT makes up almost three quarters of our daily energy expenditure.

To simplify, it is much easier to increase the amount of energy you burn in a day than you originally thought.

Move More and Sit Less

Whilst seated our muscles are inactive and circulation of blood slows down, in turn increasing the risk of health complications such as diabetes, heart disease or high cholesterol in the long term. Fortunately, it is not all doom and gloom. The smallest changes can make the most substantial difference regarding breaking up sedentary periods and to overall health.

Many of us know that completing just 3 minutes of resistance or light walking every 30 minutes can have dramatic positive effects on an individual’s cardiovascular health. Furthermore, a study observed three different groups and the role of short activity breaks during periods of sitting had on postprandial (after-food) glucose responses and diabetes management. Group 1 were completely sedentary after consuming a standardised carbohydrate-based drink. Group 2 were subject to two-minute bouts of light intensity walking every 20 minutes after consuming the drink. Group 3 walked for 2-minutes at a moderate intensity every 20 minutes.

Interestingly the results showed that breaking up sitting with two minutes of light walking reduced blood glucose by 24.1%. Those who did moderate intensity walking saw an average reduction in their blood glucose levels of 29.6%.

Tips for increasing incidental physical activity

Now that you know of the impressive effects of breaking up sedentary behaviours on the body, it is also important to understand the simplest way of how to break this behaviour up. The answer through incidental physical activity.

Below are some relatively simply ideas that might work for you in increasing your current level of incidental activity:

  • Don’t just sit whilst watching TV
    Try finishing off your evening with some ironing whilst watching your favourite television show. To provide some perspective, one hour of resistance band exercises expends a comparable amount of energy (subject to the intensity of training).
  • Use a standing desk
    Quite self-explanatory, as more muscles groups are being activated when standing compared to sitting this results in a greater amount of incidental activity being accomplished.
  • Make the most of your lunch break
    Recognising your lunch break as a time to socialise with colleagues, enjoy the sunshine, expend some energy and get some fresh air rather than simply enjoying a sit down meal will go a long way to increasing incidental activity levels.
  • Make your meeting active
    Talk your calls on the move or try walking meetings. It is understandable that this may be easier said than done, however, acknowledging movement as an opportunity rather than an obligation will only benefit you.
  • Add short bursts of movements to boring tasks
    Waiting for the kettle to boil or your bread to toast? Try incorporating dynamic movements such as squats, lunges, push-ups or calf raises whilst you are patiently, yet sedentarily, waiting.
  • Set yourself reminders to move
    Keeping reminders for yourself to move will assist in keeping you accountable and motivated toward reducing your inactivity.

Incidental activity isn’t just for people who aren’t performing regular structured exercise. Exercise and physical activity go hand in hand, and both occupy an important section of the Australian physical activity guidelines.

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