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  • Writer's pictureDoug Joachim

NEAT: Magic Underpants & Weight Loss

Updated: Jul 23, 2023

NEAT Non-exercise activity thermogenesis

Dr. James Levine from the Mayo Clinic (and inventor of the original treadmill desk) wanted to find out why some self proclaimed couch potatoes are fat and others skinny even though they eat the same amount of food.  So he decided to construct a study where he nicely asked all the participants to wear black skin-tight magic underpants. To be honest, they are not really magic.  In fact, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but magic doesn’t really exist. Sorry. However, all the participants donned this special undergarment which every half second (24/7) monitored all posture changes and movements they made with little accelerometers and inclinometers embedded in the fabric. It was impossible to scratch your ear or move your toes without this underwear picking up the movement. Dr. Levine was attempting to measure the volunteer’s NEAT: Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis – the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or exercise.

Examples of NEAT activities:

  1. Toe tapping

  2. Cooking

  3. Playing guitar or mandolin

  4. Petting your pet

  5. Standing

  6. Pacing

  7. Gardening

  8. Fidgeting

  9. Playing board games

  10. Chewing gum

  11. Sex

  12. Cleaning

  13. Folding laundry

Unlike most obesity research which relies on self-reporting (a person’s flawed recollections, sometimes weeks after the fact, of how much they ate or exercised put down in a journal), the participants in this well-constructed study consumed all of their food in the lab for eight weeks and were told not to exercise – no self reporting, lying or remembering incorrectly skewing the results.

“With nary a snack nor workout left to chance, Dr. Levine was able to plumb the mysteries of a closed metabolic universe in which every calorie, consumed as food or expended for energy, could be accounted for”. -NY Times

The self proclaimed couch potatoes were all overfed by 1000 extra calories per day for eight weeks.  At the end of the study, most gained weight anywhere from .75lbs to over 9lbs a 10-fold difference despite the same calorie intake. The people who gained the most participated in NEAT the least.  Researchers note there is a correlation between extra calorie intake and increased NEAT but it varies widely in the population.  It appears that skinny people may have a better predisposition for NEAT when eating like gluttons and hence preventing weight gain. Whereas, many obese people have NEAT systems that may be genetically/hormonally subdued and don’t go into overdrive when they increase their food intake. All hope is not lost because you can voluntarily increase your NEAT by incorporating new habits into your lifestyle.

Our technologically advanced chair-born society cuts our NEAT time down to barely nil. The washing machine, dishwasher, elevator, horseless carriages, and worst of all TV have contributed to the fattening of our population as much as the proliferation of junk food and sodas. As labor-saving devices increase, so does obesity levels. NEAT can vary between two same sized individuals by up to 2000 calories per day depending on their occupation and leisure time activities.  A person can burn up to an extra 750 calories per day by moving more and incorporating NEAT into their daily routine.  For example, just standing up burns triple the calories of sitting.  Sitting wreaks havoc on the body.

NEAT Ideas:

  1. Get up from your chair often and do a few air squats…your co-workers might think you are afflicted with OCD but those extra squats will burn calories.

  2. When you watch TV during every commercial get up a do a quick chore or better yet do chores while you are watching i.e. fold clothing, knit, basketweave, polish your shoes etc.

  3. Sit on a stability ball instead of your office chair – the instability of the ball will ensure you keep moving while seated.

  4. Get a standing or treadmill workstation and burn a bunch of calories during the day.

  5. Go for walk with your friends and family as often as possible.

  6. Don’t sit during your train commute…you will feel less tired and burn more energy by standing.

  7. Take the stairs!  If you must take the escalator, the least you can do is walk up.

  8. After you eat dinner, don’t move right to the living room chair…do some chores or walk around for at least 30 minutes.

  9. Tap your toes and fidget while seated.

  10. Cook your food…which doesn’t mean unwrap, then nuke.  Cooking includes chopping, slicing, sauteing, boiling, mixing etc.

  11. Play with your kids or dog.

  12. Pace while on the phone.

Boosting your Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) and incorporating it throughout your day presents an excellent approach to creating a calorie deficit without further reducing your intake. Moreover, it offers a less taxing method to enhance energy expenditure compared to adding extra exercise to your daily routine. Studies have indicated that individuals who sustain higher NEAT levels are more likely to successfully maintain their target weight compared to those with lower NEAT levels.


1. Interindividual Variation in Posture Allocation: Possible Role in Human Obesity 2. The NY Times: Is Sitting a Lethal Activity? 3. NEAT Liberating the Life Force 4. ACSM conference – Inactivity Physiology and Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis D- Marc T. Hamilton, University of Missouri (NEAT): Clinical and Molecular Insights James A. Levine, Mayo Clinic Theodore W. Zderic, University of Missouri – Columbia Catherine Kotz, Veterans Affairs Medical Center. 2006

Doug Joachim – NYC in-home personal trainer


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