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Does Walking Increase NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis)?

If you’re in the fat loss industry (or even interested in fat loss), you may be familiar with the term NEAT, which is an acronym of ‘Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis’. In this article we’re going to discuss whether daily walking helps to increase NEAT.

NEAT is essentially an umbrella term for any non-exercise activity that helps to burn calories, so could include housework, walking the dog, gardening etc – all activities you’d be doing anyway, but ones with the added benefit of burning additional energy. The effect of NEAT is so powerful that it may be responsible for over 50% of fat loss, so it makes to increase NEAT!

One of the tried and trusted methods of improving the rate of fat loss is increasing the non-exercise activity thermogenesis you achieve every day. Research shows that it can be a key mechanism in helping people to lose weight. As our jobs have become more sedentary and we commute less whilst we work from home, our non-activity thermogenesis has dropped considerably.

Believe it or not, sitting in front of a computer screen doesn’t really burn much in the way of calories…

Walking is an answer…

One of the best ways to increase NEAT is to walk more. I know that sounds too simplistic, but it really is. There’s now a significant body of research that shows just how powerful walking is when it comes to boosting calorie burn and NEAT.

increase NEAT
Hiking boots of traveler sitting on high mountain top in travel. Freedom concept

In this comparison study between the calorie burn rates of running and walking, it was discovered that walking burns around 70-80% of the calories running does. I know there’s more to the story than that (great after burn effect, impact on health and performance from running etc), but from a fat loss point of view, if you can get 80% of the calorie burn without tiring yourself out, that’s a huge plus.

Understanding the impact that daily walking has on NEAT is massive, when put into context….

If you can burn around 75% of the calories you would running through walking, but expel perhaps 10% of the effort, it means you can save your energy for the muscle-preserving and building work in the gym. You don’t impact your recovery anywhere near as much and you reduce your overall injury risk by an enormous factor.

Walking may be the best bang for your buck when it comes to effort and reward ratios with NEAT.

Unexpected benefits of walking to increase NEAT…

I was recently researching the effects of sitting on athletic performance and I was actually quite shocked. I knew that sitting wasn’t great for us, but the impacts are worse than I imagined.

Cognitively, prolonged periods of sitting seem to have a large impact. Our mental energy, problem-solving abilities, memory and motivation take a dip, but all of these are reversed with exercise. On a side note, it shows maybe that lunch break activity will help people who sit down at work a lot. A lunch time walk could be perfect, followed by an after-work strength training session.

There’s also research that suggests sitting with a slouched posture impacts the quality of our breathing and compromises the effective working of the heart and phrenic nerves.

The calorie burn of the 10,000 steps per day guideline

By now we’re probably all familiar with the 10,000 steps per day target, but what does that look like in reality? How far is 10k steps?

To the average person, it’s around 5 miles. Unless of course you have particularly long or short steps, in which case it’ll be different. If we take typical calorie burn levels for a 5 mile walk, the average person will burn 300-400 calories on a flat, 1 hour stroll. Not bad at all – especially when you factor in the maths.

If you were to burn 350 calories from walking every day, you’d burn an additional 2,450 calories per week. That adds up to 127,750 calories per year, which is the equivalent of 31lbs of fat! So assuming you did nothing else (that would also mean you didn’t eat any extra too), by going on a daily walk you could safely assume you’d lose well over 20lbs of fat.

I’d say that yes, walking definitely does increase NEAT!

Walking as exercise

You can legitimately burn a huge amount of calories by upping your walking game – taking it from a daily stroll to a full-blown hike! Here’s a few stats from the last time I climbed Mount Snowdon

  • 302% of my daily activity target hit
  • 34,205 steps
  • 4,999 calories burned
  • 24.75km walked
Snowdon climb, exercise, increase NEAT

If you didn’t believe in the power of walking before, I hope you do having seen those figures! They’re a pretty powerful statement of how effective walking is as a calorie burner! Nearly 5000 calories is a huge amount of energy to expend in a single day.

Where I don’t think that a daily walk is the answer to all exercise questions, it’s certainly a great way to take care of your fat loss requirements. By walking daily you can take care of at least half of your daily fat loss activities, but do so in a low-impact way that doesn’t risk injury or require much in the way of recovery.

Monitoring daily activity to help increase NEAT

Keeping an eye on how much walking you do is so easy now, thanks to watches and phones having activity trackers in them. If it’s anything like my watch, you’ll even get told off if you don’t keep up with some form of movement every few hours!

This serves as a perfect reminder of how far you’ve walked every day and will give you an idea of your energy burn. By wearing a device that gives you live feedback of your daily steps and movement, you can keep track of exactly how active you’ve been.

If you haven’t been active enough, you’ve got an instant reminder and motivation to get up and get active.

Walking and fat loss

It’s important to note that walking alone isn’t going to be enough to make you lose a lot of weight – it’s only going to work if it’s consistent and it is coupled with not replacing the calories burned from walking with extra eating. Remember all fat loss is a result of a calorie deficit – this is just a way of creating that deficit.

Assuming you don’t just replace the calories you’ve burned with more food, walking is the perfect way to increase NEAT, because it doesn’t demand much from your body but it contributes a significant calorie burn. If you coupled a daily walk with a strength training session 4 days per week, you’d make significant steps towards fat loss.

To make walking increase NEAT, do it daily, aim for at least 10,000 steps per day and if you can, get it done off-road and up hills! If you can’t, doesn’t matter, just get out and walk!

By the way, if you subscribe to the Hoyles Fitness mailing list you’ll receive a free eBook containing 101 Health and Fitness Tips, plus offers and news exclusive to Hoyles Fitness subscribers. Click the image below to download…

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Owner of Personal Trainer, Father and fitness copy writer. Working hard making the world fitter and healthier!

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