September 07, 2019

What is NEAT? Can a Stand Up Desk Improve My Health?

What is NEAT? Can a Stand Up Desk Improve My Health?

What are the Health Benefits of a Stand Up Desk?

Wouldn’t it be neat to get healthier as you work - building strength and vitality at the same time? Wouldn’t it be even neater if you could do this while you work at your desk?

When you tell people you have a desk job and that you’re at your desk for hours each day they will wonder how you do it and stay fit. 

It’s common knowledge that sitting, whether at home or at work, for long periods of time is not conducive to a healthy lifestyle.

People with jobs that keep them on their feet and moving have a distinct advantage over those who are required to work at a desk or table all day. The tradition has always been for those people tied to a desk or table to sit as they work…take a load off, so to speak.

As Bob Dylan says, The times they are a-changin’. 

Today, we have the sit-to-stand desk for the office worker.

No longer are workers forced to sit for hours on end performing their duties.

When the individual tires of sitting, they can reconfigure the sit-to-stand deskwhich allows them to stand for a while. Then they can return to sitting. And they can repeat this cycle all day long.

So, what’s so neat about standing at a desk and working?

It’s exactly that: It’s NEAT!

What does the acronym NEAT mean?

NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.

What is Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis?

One definition of this is that it is the energy we expend doing all those things that are not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise programs. 

NEAT is how we burn calories doing the things we do normally during the day---walking, standing, typing on a computer, performing yard work, anything that essentially requires movement…including fidgeting.

It’s quickly obvious that sitting does not create a great deal of thermogenesis (metabolic activity). 

The body is designed to burn calories and is good at it. But sitting suppresses this activity and the longer you sit the more your metabolism is suppressed. 

Many people who claim to have a slow metabolism problem might have more of a movement problem--that is, a lack of movement problem.

What does the acronym NEPA stand for? 

NEPA is an acronym for non-exercise physical activity.

NEAT, also known as NEPA, non-exercise physical activity, is responsible for your energy expenditure both at low levels and high levels of activity.

NEAT can count for as little as 15% of the energy spent by a worker who chooses to sit or be sedentary. On the other hand, it can account for up to 50% of the energy expended for the person who opts for a more active approach. 

How many calories can I burn using a standing desk?

Without getting into long discussions in physiology, basal metabolic rates, and other energy formulas; a competent research example demonstrated that an average, healthy person might experience a difference of 350 more calories burned per day by choosing to stand for periods of time rather than sitting all day.

350 calories per day may not seem like much but two points can be made from it.

First, 350 calories a day equals 1750 per week…and, well, you can do the math.  

But secondly, and more importantly, rather than piling on or just staying static, you are eliminating calories---burning them off! And in most cases that equates to weight loss. It’s progress in the right direction and the effect is cumulative. 

Do I still need to exercise if I am using a standing desk?

Standing periodically throughout the day is certainly beneficial and better than the alternative. But just standing will not solve the problem entirely. You need to move some as well.

Aside from the obvious fact that moving around, or exercising, is vital for weight loss. It is also beneficial in other ways as well.

Some of the additional benefits include; strengthening and toning the body and enhancing flexibility. Even at low levels, exercising is good for the heart.

But improving your physical health by standing for periods of the day is not all there is to it. There are more bonuses for standing while working at your desk.  

Along with the physical improvements mentioned above, two more benefits are; increased energy and mental clarity - enhancing productivity and decision making.

What are the exercises I can do at my sit-standing desk?

There are a number of recommended exercise routines for standing while working at a desk or table. And many of these routines can be found online. 

Just Google "Desk Exercises" and see how many different programs and plans are out there. 

But it’s highly probable that if your workplace already employs sit-to-stand desks for its employees, there will also be an exercise program in place as well.

How Does Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis Work?

The mechanics by which NEAT functions are unknown, but it may be a critical component in how we manage our body weight. Experts believe there is a connection between NEAT and the hypothalamus in the brain. The hypothalamus has a key role in regulating heart rate and body temperature. 

This may imply that there is more to the need for physical activity than meets the eye.

As NEAT researcher James Levine puts it, "We may come to appreciate that spontaneous physical activity is not spontaneous at all but carefully programmed."