NEAT: how small movements make a big difference to your health

It has been shown that periods of intense exercise can’t make up for the 6-8 hours a day that the average office worker spends sitting at their desk. For those looking to burn calories and maintain a healthy body weight, it is also important to keep moving throughout the day. The small activities you do, from household chores to playing with your kids, from walking to the printer to taking the stairs, all add up through what is known as non-exercise activity thermogenesis (or NEAT). The more NEAT activities you engage in each day, the more calories you burn and the better your overall physical health will be.

As the workplace is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to declining levels of physical activity among adults, it is important to target it while you’re at work.

Stand up but don’t stand still

Working at a standing desk will already increase your NEAT activities by getting you up on your feet but adding a standing desk mat adds an extra level of movement. The great thing is not only do you not notice the extra energy used by moving while you stand, but it will actually make standing up easier and more comfortable, placing less strain on your body.

Active standing desk mats are designed to promote constant movement and encourage you to continually shift your position while standing. The best mats feature a topographic surface that stimulates blood flow to the lower limbs and prompts you to stretch your calves and flex your feet. This regular movement improves circulation, reduces fatigue compared to standing in one position and alleviates strain on your legs, knees and back.

This small amount of movement may seem insignificant but in fact it helps to boost your metabolism, which makes it easier to burn calories and lose weight. Over the course of a week, standing at your desk for a few hours a day adds up to a lot of extra physical activity.

A balancing act

Another effective tool for boosting activity levels while at your desk is a balance board. This forces your body to work to stabilise you and keep balance while you stand. Balance training strengthens the muscles that help keep you upright including hip, leg and core muscles. Using a balance board can take some getting used to, especially while you work, but, once you get the hang of it, it is a simple way to keep moving while at your desk – with the added benefit of improving your balance.

Of course, it’s still important to find time to do the minimum 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise that it is recommend adults do each week, but fitness experts agree that NEAT is essential to a healthy lifestyle and can have a big impact on your overall fitness levels.