Sitting, NEAT & Exercise Resistance
Written by Kirsten Ahrendt
Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, I’ve gone from having an INCREDIBLY ACTIVE lifestyle – walking, moving, lifting, warming up, demo’ing for anywhere from 2-6 hours a day, to sitting at my computer. A lot. Like a lot a lot (insert Dumb & Dumber Jim Carey voice here).
I’ve heard similar things from many of you. Working from home means you’re walking less from office to office, or to your car, or to your next meeting, or up the stairs, etc. This is troublesome in terms of a total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).
Let’s discuss some scientific research that goes over why sitting sucks, how it correlates to decreased overall movement throughout the day, and at extreme levels, creates resistance to the positive effects of your daily 1-hour intentional exercise routines.
What does NEAT stand for?
Turns out, all this “low-key” movement-in-disguise of daily to-do-stuff is TREMENDOUSLY beneficial and powerfully accumulative in its effects, especially as it relates to weight loss. All those activities and movements throughout the day are examples of Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis aka NEAT (This is a for-real science term). NEAT refers to all forms of physical activity that are non-volitional or spontaneous in nature, and does not include intentional exercise routines  (exercise classes, structured training, biking, running, hikes, etc).
Why is NEAT Important to weight loss?
Total Daily Energy Expenditure combined with calorie intake are two primary variables to consider if you’re looking to lose weight. Given that energy expenditure directly impacts weight loss or gain, it is understandable that reduced NEAT could result in weight gain via decreased energy output. NEAT encompasses such a wide variety of activity, it is considered the most variable component of total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) ranging from 15% in sedentary people to 50% or more of TDEE in highly active individuals. 
The cumulative effects of NEAT have been demonstrated to add up to hundreds and into a 1,000 calories per day for very active individuals. That’s CRAZY! Walk the dog, tap your foot, carry the shopping basket instead of pushing the cart, take a walking phone call, crawl around with the kiddo. These are like FREE MONEY when it comes to weight loss. Your hour in the gym only contributes so much to your daily energy expenditure – but looks 100% more instagram-worthy; the other 23 hours of your day have ample opportunity hidden within them and contribute to a much bigger impact on your overall energy expenditure, and hence weight loss. Added bonus: the more NEAT you do, the less reliant on calorie restriction you’ll be to lose weight.
Sitting and Exercise Resistance
But wait, there’s more! This scientific study suggests prolonged sitting or sedentary activity may invoke a type of physiological resistance to the usual benefits of exercise. WHAT?! I’m exercise-intolerant now?! Oh hell no! **Sets fire to office chair WHOOSH**.
The Science Behind Sitting
Physical activity and exercise are well-documented methods that improve lipid, glucose, and insulin metabolism. The above-mentioned study used biomarkers to test how a 1-hour vigorous exercise session’s health impacts are muted by extreme daily inactivity. Test subjects were sedentary or sitting for ~13 hrs/day, accumulating less than 4,000 steps/day, and then participated in 1-hr of vigorous exercise. “Results demonstrated that physical inactivity created conditions whereby the body becomes resistant to the normal positive effects derived from an acute bout of exercise. It seems that something inherent to inactivity and/or prolonged sitting makes the body resistant to the 1-hr of exercise preventing the normally derived metabolic improvements following exercise.”
The truth hurts, ya’ll. But science takes no prisoners. Get out of your chair. Move daily – simple stuff! And feel good about it. Not only will it increase your TDEE, but it will make sure that your hour in the gym isn’t in vain!
1 – https://www.jcfitness.co.uk/blog/nonexercise-activity-thermogenesis-neat-weight-loss/
2 – https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/japplphysiol.00968.2018
3 – https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(15)00123-8/fulltext