The NEAT Way To Lose Weight

A fascinating new study by the Mayo Clinic reports the difference between obesity and fitness can be a matter of one's "non-exercise activity thermogenesis" or NEAT. So much so, scientists believe the NEAT factor can be more powerful than formal exercise, and determine who is lean or obese.

Simply put, NEAT is the way in which people burn calories in their everyday activities. For example, obese patients -- people with low NEAT -- tend to sit more than two hours a day longer than their leaner counterparts. As a result, obese people burn 350 fewer calories a day. Researchers believe a low NEAT factor -- a biological need to sit more -- could explain why the obese often blame "low metabolism" for the excessive weight they carry.

Scientists also believe the NEAT factor present in obese patients doesn't necessarily mean they're not motivated to lose weight. Instead, it may reflect a brain chemical difference because, according to the Mayo Clinic study, even when obese people lose weight they sit the same number of minutes every day.

Over the course of the 10-year study, 20 patients (half obese and the rest lean) wore underclothes equipped with sensors that measured movements down to the smallest tap of the toe. Then, researchers overfed lean patients by 1,000 calories a day to make them gain weight, and underfed obese patients by just as many calories daily to replicate an intense diet. Researchers then monitored their movements every half-second for 10 days and compared the results.

Even after losing weight, the obese group sat more and moved less. And even after gaining weight, the naturally lean group stood, walked and even fidgeted more than the other group. That led researchers to conclude obese people are NEAT-deficient, perhaps as a result of a neurological defect in processing biological drives and environmental cues.

This study mirrors a previous study I posted last fall about the amazing benefits sedentary patients can receive even with short "doses" of exercise. Which just goes to show you how important it is to increase your physical activity every day. Walk to the park, instead of driving. When you go shopping, park on the opposite side of the mall.

Science January 28, 2005, 307: 530-531

About.com February 9, 2005

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