Renegade Health Radio: How to Stay Thin Without Exercising with NEAT

Monday May 19 | BY |
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How to Stay Thin Without Exercising with NEAT


  • Why exercise is not a perfect antidote for sitting.
  • The magic metabolic factor that explains why some people never gain weight.
  • What a group of people did to stay thin while NOT exercising and eating an extra 1,000 calories a day.
  • Over 15 ways to burn calories without trying or exercising.

Click the play button to start the call:


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Kevin: Renegade Health Radio. Kevin Gianni here with Frederic Patenaude. Fred, what’s the word?

Fredric: I’m here. Yes, the word for today is “NEAT.”

Kevin: NEAT?

Fredric: NEAT. Are you NEAT?

Kevin: I’m kind of NEAT. I would say I’m NEATer than Annemarie.

Fredric: Are you getting your NEAT? That’s what we’re going to talk about.

Kevin: I don’t know what the heck that means.

Fredric: All right. NEAT, that’s my topic for you guys. It’s the concept of NEAT and getting your NEAT. What the hell is that?

First, let’s describe it. The NEAT is your Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. I love this word. I’ll go back. But everybody says, “How do you lose weight? How do you stay in shape? Compensate for eating a little bit too many calories here and there?” And people think of exercise—well, I am going to run; I’m going to go to the gym, and so on. But it’s not necessarily the case that exercise is the best way to maintain your energy balance.

James Levine is a researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and he…I don’t know if he came up with the concept of NEAT, but he has done a lot of research. He’s found that the traditional obesity-fighting research relies on self-reporting, so asking people, “What did you eat today? Did you exercise?” And people kind of lie on that.

Kevin: Very unreliable.

Fredric: Yeah, very unreliable. Imagine taking a bunch of people and putting them in, like, really high-tech clothing that measures all of their movements, like a pedometer for your underwear, almost. Like every kind of…most movements, like very advanced pedometers not only taking into account steps taken, but just little movements, like you lift your arm and everything. Not something that would be feasible for most people to track, but in a context of lab research, they can do it.

Kevin: I’m imaging a storm trooper right now.

Fredric: [laughs] Yes, so imagine those people doing this research that started in 2005 that were told not exercise. For two months, don’t exercise and we’re going to tell you what to eat.

Kevin: What a relief, right? Don’t exercise.

Fredric: Exactly. Don’t exercise. But what they found is that on the same number of calories some people would gain weight, some people would not, and some people would lose weight. And then when they force fed an extra thousand calories a day, like a subgroup of those people, some of the subjects packed the pounds, obviously, and some gained little or no weight.

What was going on? What they found is that some people were just moving more than others. That was the main difference. So when you look at energy, sometimes people think “a calorie is not a calorie” or it “depends, like, how your metabolism is and is functioning” and so on, but it seems that the research is still pointing towards energy balance as being the key. Yes, the calorie matters and how you burn it matters, so if you don’t exercise, you’re still going to burn calories the way you’re moving.

The conventional wisdom is that you should watch your diet and exercise a few times a week if you want to offset the effects of being sedentary. So you’re sedentary, your work is sedentary, but you’re going to work out to compensate. But what they’re finding out is that exercise, like fitness activities, is not necessarily an antidote for being sedentary or sitting a lot.

So sitting has problems that exercise won’t fix! So we need to start moving more—just everything counts. I am going to give you some examples, but just walking, in general, is a non-exercise activity—thermogenesis—and then also like fidgeting. I am going to give you a bunch of examples, but what they found is when you’re completely sedentary for just 24 hours, it creates a 40 percent reduction in your insulin’s ability to uptake glucose. So just 24 hours. That’s one study that they did at the same clinic that I mentioned. Imagine that. Just 24 hours doing nothing just really affects your insulin’s ability.

It’s quite shocking. And I think we sit a lot; I sit a lot. I mean, a lot of you are sitting a lot. I don’t know, Kevin, I think you sit a lot. I mean, as part of your work, it’s kind of…the work is a sitting kind of work. Most people are like that nowadays because our environment is not conducive to exercise. Not just exercise, but activity in general. And I think a lot of people in the health movement now are talking about this. Even like Mark Sisson; I think it’s a big deal. He has this pyramid of fitness and at the base of the pyramid it’s just movement, in general. It’s not fitness activities, but just walking and then just doing things around the house and so on.

I just wanted to bring you this concept. And think about it. First, I think the concept is that if we sit a lot, yeah, it’s going to be a problem. And exercising is not a complete solution to that problem. We need to kind of…we just need to move more in general and not think of everything as being fitness or non-fitness activities.

There’s something in between and it’s called the NEAT. It contributes to your energy balances. That means you’re going to lose weight or gain weight if you don’t do this or if you do this. And it goes to say that, I mean, trivial activities really count, and it’s sort of like, how it accumulates—everything. Everything matters.

So that’s it. That’s my concept, and I’ve got a few examples of how to increase your NEAT and maybe you can add a few, Kevin, or share some of the things you’re doing.

Kevin: NEAT!

Fredric: Yeah, what’s your NEAT?

Kevin: Oh, do you want me to do a NEAT first, or do you want to share yours?

Fredric: Give me a few and then I’ll share my list, and then we can add a few.

Kevin: Obviously, you know, my lifestyle here in Berkley, my commute is a 22-minute walk back and forth, and so for me that’s a big, you know, that’s not a big part of my day, but that’s definitely NEAT.

The other thing that happens to me, and I talk to my friends about this fairly often, is that I pace when I’m on the phone. I probably have about two to three calls every day. Sometimes they’re anywhere between 15 minutes to an hour, and I pace. I go outside and I do not talk on the phone sitting down very well, and I pace like crazy, and I drive Annemarie insane because I pace. I’ll pace around the room when I’m talking on the phone. I’ll even pace around the room when I am talking to Annemarie, which also drives her insane. You might be beginning to think that I drive Annemarie insane and you’d have to ask her what the answer to that is.

I think pacing is one of the things that’s big for me. And the other thing that I do is I bounce my leg. I’m always the guy at the dinner table, when someone is just like, “What’s that? Who’s shaking? What’s happening?” That’s me. So if you’re ever at a dinner table with me and you feel like a little mini earthquake—one point something on the Richter scale—that’s just me shaking my leg because it’s something that I just…it’s not restless leg syndrome, it’s just that nervous…I don’t even, it’s not even that nervous. It’s just this habit that I’ve picked up over the, I don’t know how many years or when I picked it up, but that’s another thing. I don’t know how many calories that burns, but I do know that it’s something, it’s motion that I’m doing all the time.

Fredric: That’s good. I think I do that, too. I mean, I fidget a lot. The research shows that it’s just people who stay lean kind of tend to do these things.

I am going to go through my list and then I’m sure you’re already doing a lot of those things, Kevin. That’s going to be a good start for people. The first one is to stand up. Just standing up burns 50 percent more calories than sitting down. Doing nothing—you’re just up. That’s the only thing you’re doing is up. What I am doing…sometimes I take the public transportation in Montreal, like the Metro. What I started doing is I just stand up, and then obviously if it’s crowded then I’d rather give my seat to someone who really feels like they need to sit down or needs it, and I just think, “Hey, I’m just going to stand up,” because why would I just, if I’m going to concert with some friends, why would I sit down in anticipation of an activity where I’ll be sitting? I might as well stand before the activity where I’ll be sitting.

Another thing is buy a pedometer or get a pedometer. And the one that I use is the Fitbit. And it’s really awesome because it interacts with your iPhone and your email, so it will send you emails to keep you on track. It’s pretty accurate. The pedometer kind of tells you how many steps you’re taking in a day and that can keep you on track. This one actually also measures how many flights of stairs you’re walking.

Another possibility is a treadmill desk. So you’re doing some of your work standing. People ask me all the time, “Is it disorienting? Is it difficult to type when you’re doing this?” No, not when you’re walking one or two miles an hour.

Kevin: You don’t run on the thing.

Fredric: Yeah, exactly.

Kevin: Can I share my quick treadmill desk story? I had a treadmill desk in my office and our office has gotten too big—sorry, too many people in our office now to actually sustain a treadmill desk being in there. There’s no room in our house either, so I’ve actually kind of stored it. But the first day that I was on the treadmill desk, I was walking maybe a little bit too fast and the phone rang. I was actually doing well on the computer and just kind of…it was good. So I started…the phone rang and I picked up the phone and I realized that I had stopped walking. I was moving! I saw the desk in front of me just like slipping away and I was going backwards and I hit the wall. Actually the treadmill desk was up against the, well, the back of it was against the wall so I actually hit the wall and I managed to recover, but it was kind of a really, just weird disorienting experience. Not normal, but just something to be aware of.

Fredric: I mean when you have a bigger office eventually you’ll set it up again.

Kevin: Yeah, of course.

Fredric: Yeah, the treadmill desk is pretty awesome. I think it’s just finding the right way to using it. It’s the difficulty, right?

I got a few more. Take the stairs whenever you can. That’s an obvious one. Get off your chair once…just…I started doing that more and more. I am writing for 20 minutes and then I just go pace a little bit and then come back. Just not standing for long stretches of time.

Another one that I picked up, which is really cool, is to stand up on one leg when you’re brushing your teeth. This works out your coordination. I picked it up from the book The First 20 Minutes. If you just do this thing alone, you’ll improve your balance and coordination and it’s going to help you as you get older. If it’s too easy, you can close one or two eyes as you’re doing it. I mean, you’re going to look ridiculous and please don’t hurt yourself if you’re doing this for the first time, but this is a good way…people will think it’s trivial, but it’s just these little things that really matter.

Kevin: You’ll look like a flamingo.

Fredric: Exactly. The walking meetings like you talked about or walking while you’re on the phone instead of just being on the couch. Then I had also bouncing your leg up and down when you’re sitting, so you’re already doing that. Tap your foot or wiggle your toes while you’re sitting. I mean it sounds ridiculous, but it just works. Washing your dishes by hand instead of just throwing everything in the dishwasher all the time.

Cleaning the house appears to be very good, and by the way they’ve done some research to show it’s the single best activity you can do for your mental health.

Kevin: Really?

Fredric: Yeah! Like you want to improve your mood, just clean your house. I mean, you feel better after and it’s physical also. Maybe not doing it all the time and driving yourself crazy, but just spending a little bit of time organizing. I know you do that a lot, Kevin.

Kevin: Yeah, I like to straighten. I like to straighten and I like to clean dishes. I don’t like to like clean like scrubbing. Forget it.

Fredric: But organize.

Kevin: I love it.

Fredric: Put things in their place. Another one is to play a musical instrument or do knitting or some kind of hobby that keeps you moving, even if it’s just briefly. If you’re playing the piano, I mean, you’re sitting but your hands are moving. There’s more brain activity.

Then gardening, yard work, all of these things. I mean, you can come up with your own NEAT, essentially. Fidget more. Stand up more. Walk more and just try not to sit for long periods of time. You can also drink a lot of water. That’s kind of an odd trick that I found in the research. Why? Because you’ll just go pee more often so it’ll make you stand up and walk.

Kevin: I wasn’t expecting that as the reason why it would be effective to fit into NEAT.

Fredric: Yeah, because then you don’t have to remind yourself to stand up. You’re like, “I really have to go the bathroom and take a little break now.”

Kevin: [Laughs] That’s awesome. Well that’s great. Do you have any others or that’s it?

Fredric: That’s it. That’s it. If you guys have more ideas at when we post this, please comment, or of course leave a review on iTunes. We’d love to hear from you.

Kevin: We need your reviews, guys. Thank you. You know what it does? It just helps other people hear about this information. We appreciate you and thanks for listening. Even if you want to review us as a one, that’s fine too. We’ll be hurt, but it’s okay.

Fredric: Yeah, we’ll recover after a week.

Kevin: Well, maybe it’ll take a little bit longer than a week, for me. I take this stuff personally.

Fredric: All right, thanks guys.

Kevin: Bye.

Kevin Gianni

Kevin Gianni is a health author, activist and blogger. He started seriously researching personal and preventative natural health therapies in 2002 when he was struck with the reality that cancer ran deep in his family and if he didn’t change the way he was living — he might go down that same path. Since then, he’s written and edited 6 books on the subject of natural health, diet and fitness. During this time, he’s constantly been humbled by what experts claim they know and what actually is true. This has led him to experiment with many diets and protocols — including vegan, raw food, fasting, medical treatments and more — to find out what is myth and what really works in the real world.

Kevin has also traveled around the world searching for the best protocols, foods, medicines and clinics around and bringing them to the readers of his blog — which is one of the most widely read natural health blogs in the world with hundreds of thousands of visitors a month from over 150 countries around the world.


Comments are closed for this post.

  1. Rose says:

    I would love to listen to your talk on “How to Stay Thin Without Exercising with NEAT” but the file and download link both have an error.

  2. reen says:

    Good tips! I was listening as I was waiting for water to boil and found myself pacing!! I’m a mover in the kitchen!

  3. Gloria says:

    Hi, Guys. Thanks for the information. More and more it appears that re-evaluating “progress” (in whatever area – and in this case – health) helps us refocus on why we implement and pay homage to a particular strategy. With all the high tech equipment available at gyms (and other lesser tech equipment as well) how many of us consider walking and movement generally to be as critical as they are to maintaining health? Get out! Give me something to lift!

    I mean, seriously, walking has got to be somewhere at the bottom of the exercise list, the street urchin of exercises. The leftover of the leftovers. The one that never makes the team. The one that nobody WANTS on the team. It’s the “poor man’s” exercise or the geriatric’s recourse method and as well the somewhat physically impaired’s “choice” of exercise. With all those other elite options available, and with a body that more or less functions on command, why walk when you can run, lift, and aerobicize at high intensity?

    Because the demands of life are often such that we can’t. Always. We just can’t. We have a blog to write, a newsletter to get out, a baby to feed, foster kitties to take care of, a staff to instruct, a conference to attend, a book to write, a networking lunch, etc., etc. And let’s face it, the gym does not appeal at the end of a long day, or necessarily at the beginning of one.

    But walking or moving or standing on one leg while you brush your teeth with one eye closed – who knew? Who knew that could make up for a lot of what sitting undermines. Thank you, as always, for sharing awesome information.

    Thus spake the geriatric who got laid off two years ago and been sitting sat on her ass, reading, eating, and scanning the universe for options. I guess I better get up now, and move.

  4. Melissa says:

    That was a fun one! I always try to keep my abs tucked/tight, wether I’m sitting, walking, standing…that’s got to be good, right?!

  5. Diana says:

    Really enjoyed the episode today. Love the pod casts, always have. Cool beans.

  6. Joyly says:

    PLEASE, do not suggest bouncing one’s leg! This is a most obnoxious habit if done around others. Fidgeting and nervousness are close seconds; if you’re into it, please do it in your own space. I enjoy being around people who are calm and collected, who keep their weight at ideal through their consciousness.

    • Perry says:

      Amen to that. Will all you nerve-bundles chill the hell out and quit your endless figiting and leg-kicking and such all the time!

  7. Cindy says:

    I loved this discussion. I do a lot of those things that you guys mentioned & I’ve always been fairly thin my entire life. I constantly fidget, am always dancing around, pace when I’m on the phone, & always shake my legs when I’m sitting down. I think it’s pretty funny. Even with all the moving around I do, I decided last year that I was sitting way too much & got a pedometer. I’ve done 10,000 or more steps each & every day since August of 2013. My goal is to do that for at least an entire year. It takes a huge effort to make sure I get those steps in every day, but it’s also been a lot of fun.

  8. Mary Harris says:

    Hi Kevin and Frederic, Thanks for all the ideas to move more. I was already aware of how bad it is for you to sit too much. I learned it from Dr Mercola. I set a timer for 15 minutes while I am on my computer and get up when the alarm goes off. I at least stand up and sometimes do some stretches every 15 minutes. Thanks for educating us -I appreciate what you do!! Mary Harris

  9. Judy says:

    Hi Kevin & Frederic, Thanks for the recommendations on activities to do to avoid sitting at the computer too long. I’m guilty for not getting up enough.
    I also got a Fitbit 5 months ago and love it. I have a goal of 10,000 steps/day and when I see that I’m not going to make the 10,000 steps for that day, I leave the house and take my walk to get those steps in.
    Love listening to your podcasts.

  10. Rose says:

    Your recommendations against excess sitting are well-taken, especially for women—- as recent research findings have found that having a “9 to 5” job where you sit most of the day (ie. secretaries, management, telemarketers, teachers/administrators, service dept. workers, etc.) is literally deadly for your triglycerides (a type of blood fat that can hike up your cholesterol #s). So, I think we ALL need to make a concerted effort to MOVE more each and every day. A sedentary lifestyle…and workstyle, is a silent killer.

  11. DENISSE says:


  12. Helen says:

    Thanks for this message guys. Awesome. Already aware of this but we do need to remind ourselves of these things all the time. Keep up the good work

  13. This discussion help me to focus on putting a plan together to stay thin without Exercising.
    Thank you guys!

  14. Isabel says:

    This was a really neat podcast (no pun intended :). It definitely has me thinking of small activities I can implement throughout the day more often.

    I’m going to forward this to my parents – it’s good information for those who lead sedentary lifestyles or are less inclined toward exercise.

    And Frederic, you have a great radio voice! (Your too Kev!)

  15. John Peter says:

    PLEASE, don’t counsel bouncing one’s leg! this is often a most unpleasant habit if done around others. Fidgeting and nervousness square measure shut seconds

  16. Chenoa says:

    Wow, I’m glad to find that all the fidgeting I do is actually beneficial! I have thought that something was wrong with me because I couldn’t sit still for hours like my coworkers and classmates. It started when I had some manual labor jobs after high school–landscaping and ecological restoration. By moving all day, I discovered that I felt much better: my energy could flow throughout my body better, so I had fewer spots of tension and more relaxation. Now, with sedentary occupation, I really miss that free flow of energy brought about by constant movement, so I compensate a bit with fidgeting.

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