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Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis and its Role in Body Movement

Learn how less physically demanding exercise can be a practical way to achieve body movement

What form of exercise is permitted for those with Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH)?

The answer is complex, multifactorial and not straightforward. Exercise or any form of activity should be personalized depending on your own physical ability. For example, one with IIH may have mild headaches granting the ability to perform daily tasks while another may have debilitating symptoms that requires bed rest. Those who have had a procedure should follow the recommendations of their healthcare provider.

Any form of activity is beneficial to the body and by increasing your energy expenditure, it can improve your overall health by:

  • Strengthening your muscles, heart, and lungs
  • Reducing your risk of high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression and certain cancers.
  • Reducing the risk of falls and associated bone fractures
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight₁

Aside from the common forms of physical activity (running, cycling, gymnastics, weight lifting, swimming, dancing, etc), there are other more practical ways to achieve body movement.

Some less physically demanding ways to exercise is by increasing your balance and flexibility. An example is yoga or barre techniques. You can also get overall health benefits from the use of a sauna.₂

A lesser known way that your body burns energy is through Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT). This is a form of energy expenditure where your body uses calories to perform basic functions such as walking and standing.₃

To better understand this form of activity is by understanding all of the ways that the body burns calories.

The basal metabolic rate (BMR) or basal metabolic expenditure (BME) is the amount of calories it takes for the heart to circulate blood, restore your brain while you sleep, and other basic and essential functions of the body. The BMR or BME accounts for around 60-70% of energy expenditure in your body.₄

Diet or thermic effect of food (TEF) is how much energy your body uses to digest, absorb and metabolize the food you eat. TEF accounts for about 10% of your daily energy expenditure.₅ This can change on a meal-to-meal basis depending on what you eat. For example, animal protein requires more energy to digest, absorb, and metabolize compared to eating a plant-based meal.

Physical activity or exercise utilizes about 5-10% of your total daily expenditure. This varies greatly and is dependent on how long your heart rate is elevated and the level of intensity is performed.

NEAT is the activity that you do in a day that excludes active exercise, eating and sleeping. For example, standing and walking counts toward the amount of calories you burn a day. It also means that your body is burning calories with movement like cooking, fidgeting, being outside, and carrying the groceries into the house. NEAT activity expends 5-20% of your day to day energy expenditure. This also varies day-to-day especially when you have an exacerbation of symptoms.

Diagram showing the breakdown of daily energy expenditure₆

Bottom line: Any form of movement throughout the day is a win. Some days are better than others. On good days, taking advantage of any activity contributes to your overall health. The benefit of exercise in any form will help you achieve the benefits of a healthy cardiovascular and musculoskeletal system.

  1. World Health Organization. Physical Activity. October 5, 2022. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/physical-activity
  2. Laukkanen J, Laukkanen T, Kunutsor S. Cardiovascular and Other Health Benefits of Sauna Bathing: A Review of the Evidence. Mayo Clin Proc.  2018;93(8):1111-1121. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2018.04.008
  3. James A. Levine, M.D., Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (Neat), Nutrition Reviews. July 2004;62(2):82-97. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2004.tb00094.x
  4. Wikipedia. Basal Metabolic Rate. Accessed September 20, 2023. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basal_metabolic_rate
  5. Calcagno M, Kahleova H, Alwarith J, Burgess NN, Flores RA, Busta ML, Barnard ND. The Thermic Effect of Food: A Review. J Am Coll Nutr. 2019 Aug;38(6):547-551. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2018.1552544. Epub 2019 Apr 25. PMID: 31021710
  6. Dog ownership: is it beneficial for physical activity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes? AIMS Medical Science. January 2020;7(4):311-327. 10.3934/medsci.2020021

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