N.E.A.T. – The Real Key to Sustainable Weight Loss
For the entirety of human history we have struggled. With few exceptions, daily survival was a challenge. Manual labor was done out of necessity. Stress was acute and real. Adversity was part of the fabric of life and not something we had to manufacture by visiting a local gym, trying our resolve in an obstacle course race, or signing up for some other form of volunteer masochism.
Unfortunately, even spending an hour a day training like the average gym-goer is not enough to replace the level of activity that we have phased out over countless generations. Human beings have always strove to reduce the amount of stress we encounter. Now we have begun to realize we need acute stressors in order to shape our physiology and psychology, and live the healthiest and happiest lives that we can. I am going to start this blog series by covering why hitting the gym once a day isn’t enough, as well as how to incorporate low level activity throughout the day to facilitate sustainable progress that will provide you will health as well as fitness.
Adjusting our Modern Lifestyle
Modern lifestyle is clearly a blessing and a curse. No longer are we fighting for our lives; except against our own bad habits. Although still prevalent in some areas, most Americans do not go hungry, but we haven’t learned how to say no to food. We have eliminated diseases that had been the scourge of civilization, but we have ushered in a whole host of new ones that we are seemingly ignoring even as it spreads to our children. I tend to give us the benefit of the doubt and hope we soon see the err of our ways. After all, all of the generations that have come before us have fought tooth and nail to get us to the point where we are able to coast along on cruise control if we so choose. However, now we must course correct. Now we must analyze and separate actions that we can do from those that we should do. This is where correcting small habits comes in. We tend to focus on large, noble goals rather than small daily habits that actually make up the overwhelming majority of our lives. It is no secret that what we do everyday typically gets outsourced to habit. Driving to work involves eating a cheap, sugar filled breakfast. Lunch involves sitting around consuming some kind of fast food. Dinner is more of the same. Work breaks are filled by kicking our feet up and playing on our phones. Each and every one of these situations involves a compromise being made.
Burning Calories All Day
As I mentioned before, going to the gym once a day is not enough. I don’t think I need to make the argument that walking on a treadmill or hitting an elliptical for an hour after consuming sugar filled coffee, cheeseburgers, or even “healthy” salads all day will do almost nothing for you. In fact, that desperate attempt to burn off the calories of the day will almost certainly result in metabolic adaptation and drive you further down the wrong road. Even if you are absolutely killing an eating plan, with calories being kept in check, micronutrients being consumed, and potentially toxic food products being avoided, hitting the gym once a day is almost certainly not enough to keep you healthy. This is where the forgotten variable of non-exercise activity thermogenesis comes in.
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or NEAT, is arguably the most underutilized tool that the average person has at their disposal. Even with the proliferation of fitness trackers across the population, most do not understand how to utilize and manipulate NEAT. Ask any fitness professional or health coach worth their salt and they will tell you that what happens in the gym in literally only the very tip of the iceberg. No matter how hard you work in the gym, if you are sitting down for 8 hours a day and walking only a few thousand steps you will at best be treading water. Progress will be slow or nonexistent. You may build muscle. You will likely make some initial progress if you have never exercised before. Eventually though, your lifestyle will manifest itself in the shape of a hard plateau preventing progress. At this point you may ask for some help, hire a trainer, or worst of all go online and find a fitness celebrity for guidance. Each of these may give you the answer to break through your plateaus, but it is equally likely they will only build that obstacle higher.
What Can We Do to Increase N.E.A.T. ?
Interestingly, the answer won’t be found at the gym. Breaking down that plateau will happen at home and at work. Find new opportunities to increase activity throughout the day. Walking during breaks or at lunch. Park as far away from every building as possible. Doing squats, pushups, pullups, and lunges throughout the day is another great option. All of these are different strategies to achieve the same objective. We must realize how far we have strayed from the lifestyles of our ancestors, and try to incorporate aspects of their lives into ours. Visiting a gym for activity is something that has arisen less than one hundred years ago. Up until then, for most people exercise typically came in the form of low-level consistent movement paired with short bursts of high intensity activity such as sprinting or arduous manual labor. Think of the gym as a replacement for this acute, higher-level stress. Push yourself intelligently and consistently but don’t forget, you still need to replace the low-level, consistent form of exercise we have fortunately, or unfortunately evolved away from for the most part.
Using a Fitness Trackers
This is where fitness trackers shine. There is only one reason I recommend the average person get some type of wearable tracker and that is to bring awareness to their level of activity throughout the day. Once you have become aware of a variable and how it is affecting you, then you are able to manipulate and control it. It is common for me to see clients that average four or five thousand steps a day at most (divide this number in half for the weekends). No wonder we have a weight problem. No wonder we have circulatory and respiratory issues. Of course we have chronic diseases. Movement isn’t something that we had to pay attention to in the past. It is only because we have created a lifestyle for the large part devoid of physical struggle that we must seek out physical activity. We may adapt to this low level of activity over generations, but should we? As life only continues to get more convenient, it is imperative that we continue to get more creative. At Beneath The Bar, we take every aspect of health and fitness into consideration when training our clients and we thank you for helping us bring the two back together again!