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What Is NEAT and How Does it Impact Your Training and Weight Loss Potential?

As a strength athlete, you might find yourself spending a lot of time thinking about your program: your training volume, what exercises you choose, and how heavy you’re lifting. If you’re committed to muscle gain, overall health, or fat loss, you may also pay a lot of attention to what you’re ingesting — muscles are, after all, made in both the gym and the kitchen.

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But here’s the issue with focusing so much on how you train and what you eat: during most hours of the day, you are neither training nor eating. So, it stands to reason that your activities during the remaining 90 percent of your day would have significant impacts on your overall levels of health and fitness. 

A person walking their dog.
Credit: oatawa / Shutterstock

NEAT — or non-exercise activity thermogenesis — is one critical measure of how much energy you’re using while moving your body outside of the gym. Pay enough attention to increasing your NEAT, and you can transform your entire physique and health. Here’s how.

Meet Our Expert

Dean Guedo is a personal trainer and a powerlifter who has captured four Canadian national powerlifting championships in two separate weight classes.

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Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult with a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.

What Is NEAT?

NEAT stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis, and despite its name, there is nothing particularly tidy about its definition. Technically, NEAT refers to the energy you expend during every activity that is not sleeping, digestion, or sports-like exercise. (1)

Activities that are not sports-like exercise include basic tasks like walking to and from your car, cooking dinner, playing with your kids, or cleaning your apartment. Think: vacuuming the rugs and even doing the dishes. 

A person vacuuming their house.
Credit: M_Agency / Shutterstock

[Read More: The Big Guide to Muscle Hypertrophy]

Even activities like typing and fidgeting are included in your overall NEAT. It’s not intentional exercise and it’s not an autonomic body process like digestion or sleeping — so, it “counts” as NEAT.

How Can You Track Your NEAT?

No, you’re not going to count the amount of “reps” you do across your living room floor with a vacuum or quantify the amount of fidgeting you do each day. But you can track your NEAT using estimates from fitness trackers, some of which monitor your activity levels and provide ballpark ranges for how much energy you’re using, measured in how many calories you’re “burning.”

But of all the non-gym workout, non-sleeping-and-digesting energy that you use, the easiest energy expenditure to measure and track is how many steps you take each day. From smartphones that have basic step-estimation technology to fitness trackers that are designed for purposes like this, step-counting has become the most common way of tracking NEAT.

[Read More: At-Home Workouts for Strength, Muscle Growth, Power, and More]

“Since it is very difficult to quantify things like fidgeting, standing, and small body movements, which don’t account for that much in a day, we use the metric of one step to quantify most of our NEAT,” Guedo explains. “Steps ends up becoming a proxy for NEAT, even if it doesn’t include all things non-exercise-related.”

How Many Steps Should You Get in a Day?

With NEAT being almost universally encapsulated in a steps-per-day figure, that raises the question as to how many steps you should be taking each day. While there is more to NEAT than a simple tabulation of steps, that figure can still be a solid indication of your general activity level outside of the gym.

The CDC Recommendation

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have established daily activity guidelines for average adults. The CDC advises adults under the age of 60 to strive for 8,000 to 10,000 steps per day, while adults over 60 can make do with 6,000 to 8,000 daily strides

What Does the Research Say?

A meta-analysis of 17 relevant studies traced a strong correlation between the total number of steps taken by test subjects and a lowered risk of all-cause mortality. An increase from 7,000 to 13,000 daily steps equated to a decrease in all-cause mortality of 48.7 percent for people under the age of 60. (2)

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However, an increase from roughly 2,000 to 6,500 steps per day also resulted in a 49 percent decrease in all-cause mortality. (2) In other words, the research seems to demonstrate two things: First, it is important to maintain a stable base of activity of at least 6,000 steps per day. Second, posting higher numbers of steps than your body is currently used to may continue to help your health.

Can You Out-Exercise Your Diet?

Unless you are a professional athlete, it can be very difficult to out-exercise your diet. Even the most high-intensity training sessions rarely exceed 1,000 burned calories — and that’s on the high end of things. 

[Read More: 10 Different Ways to Burn 100 Calories Quickly]

Exercising accounts for such a small portion of our day that it would make very minimal changes unless you are exercising at elite athlete levels or endurance-type ventures,” Guedo says. “This is where NEAT and getting more movement throughout the day starts to give us a better solution to increasing our energy flux.”

How to Increase Your Daily Step Count

Applying a few simple rules to your free-time activities can have you making great strides in boosting your total stride count.

A person talking on the phone while outside.
Credit: Kateryna Onyshchuk / Shutterstock

[Read More: 10 Science-Backed Benefits of Walking for Strength Athletes]

Upping your NEAT doesn’t require a huge lifestyle overhaul,” Guedo assures BarBend. “It’s simply a matter of making small changes to your everyday routine. Just 10 minutes of activity here or there can add up over the course of any given week and before you know it, you’ll be clocking serious NEAT numbers in no time.”

Stand Up

If you have an office job and are able to stand during work, consider a standing desk and an under-desk treadmill. Can’t make that type of set-up work full-time? Consider watching your favorite sports games or Netflix shows while on the treadmill at the gym.

[Read More: The 8 Best Budget Treadmills ]

Don’t want to stand your tablet up on the shelf? Consider investing in a treadmill with a screen to make your TV sessions work even better for you.

Do Your Chores

Your dog may not be thinking about their daily step count, but you might be. Take your furry friend on a longer walk if they’re able to handle it. And don’t forget that chores like mowing the lawn and vacuuming the floor require you to take steps. Instead of cutting corners with your household tasks, consider really vacuuming all areas as part of your step-acquiring mission.

Get Outside

If you spend long stretches of time catching up with friends on the phone, that can create an opportunity for walking — whether it’s pacing around the house or putting on some sunscreen and heading outdoors.

[Read More: How Many Steps Are in a Mile?]

Even if you’re not taking a phone call, the benefits of getting outside for a walk are legion. Being outside is known to help improve mental health by reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. (3) You’ll increase your step count and NEAT, sure, but you’ll also stand (get it?) to benefit your mental health big time. 

Stand and Deliver

Non-exercise activity thermogenesis — or NEAT for short — isn’t as complicated as it sounds. NEAT refers to the energy you use during your day that is not sleeping, digesting, or intentionally exercising. Everything from fidgeting and vacuuming the house to playing with your kids and taking your dog for a walk “count” as NEAT.

By increasing your NEAT — often by increasing your step count — you stand to potentially improve your life span and even your mental health. Even if you increase your activity in small five to 10-minute bouts of chores or walks outside, remember that all this adds up. You’ll be increasing your NEAT, boosting your health, and increasing your daily calorie burn in no time.


  1. Levine JA. Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2002 Dec;16(4):679-702. 
  2. Maciej Banach, Joanna Lewek, Stanisław Surma, Peter E Penson, Amirhossein Sahebkar, Seth S Martin, Gani Bajraktari, Michael Y Henein, Željko Reiner, Agata Bielecka-Dąbrowa, Ibadete Bytyçi, on behalf of the Lipid and Blood Pressure Meta-analysis Collaboration (LBPMC) Group and the International Lipid Expert Panel (ILEP), The association between daily step count and all-cause and cardiovascular mortality: a meta-analysis, European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, 2023.
  3. Grassini S. A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Nature Walk as an Intervention for Anxiety and Depression. J Clin Med. 2022 Mar 21;11(6):1731.

Featured Image: oatawa / Shutterstock

The post What Is NEAT and How Does it Impact Your Training and Weight Loss Potential? appeared first on BarBend.

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