Written by Martin Hamer, Health and Fitness Tutor
Within the next few weeks or even months, how we live our day to day lives could change dramatically. As human beings we like to adopt schedules, systems and structures to help us and our families get by day to day. Whether this be the ritual school run, the weekly shop or the regular gym session with your personal trainer, this could all change very quickly due to the uncertainty of what is going to happen with the Covid-19 pandemic.
Our health as human beings is a very complex output of many inputs. When looking at our overall health and wellbeing, it is not just our aesthetics that deem if someone is healthy or not. We need to look at the bigger picture, such as those identified by the biopsychosocial model of health. Factors such as biology, environment, social relationships, they all play a part in how healthy an individual will be. One of the primary concerns for us as health professionals is the potential social isolation, many of our friends, family and clients may face. This will have a huge impact on physical activity, nutrition, sleep and socialisation, 4 major pillars of health and fitness.
What is NEAT?
NEAT stands for Non – Exercise activity thermogenesis. This is also referred to as spontaneous physical activity, it is the amount of energy expended by activity that can’t be classed as deliberate exercise. NEAT is just one of the factors that allows us as trainers to determine someone’s energy requirements. Other areas of consideration are basal metabolic rate, thermic effect of feeding and exercise activity thermogenesis. As trainers all of these are important to consider but for the purpose of this article and the developing Covid-19 pandemic, we will focus on NEAT. The interesting thing with NEAT is that it can vary greatly from person to person and through active communication with our clients, we can bring some awareness about what it is and how to apply it.
Does NEAT really work?
In a current fitness industry where high intensity training is king, people often forget the benefits of low intensity exercise or even routine daily activities. Now I completely understand that high intensity exercise can increase oxygen consumption and in turn energy expenditure post workout, but we shouldn’t be so blind to the benefits of lower physical activity or spontaneous physical activity. Especially in times when our own structures, systems and schedules will inevitably be disrupted. Through increasing an individual NEAT, we can achieve the benefits of improved body composition, better cardiovascular health as well as better control of daily life function and mobility. A study done by the international journal of obesity (2011) concluded that obesity was positively linked with myocardial infarction. By improving someone’s body composition through increasing energy expenditure we can improve, biological, psychological and social health.
What types of NEAT can Personal Trainers prescribe to their clients?
There are many methods that people use to increase their daily energy expenditure through spontaneous physical activity. Popular methods such as increasing step count, standing rather than sitting and using public transport rather than driving are all great strategies for people to incorporate. However, in these times of a potentially isolated society, some of these strategies may just not be practical or achievable for many of our clients. With that being said, I have encouraged clients and my students from The Training Room courses to get involved in some light-hearted competition with friends and family members. Even against myself if they are up for the challenge.
Martins NEAT method – What I have been suggesting is that for every 30 minutes someone is sedentary or in a fixed position, they must pay themselves back with 2 minutes of movement. Now I understand this won’t always be possible every 30 minutes. Therefore, if someone is sedentary for 90 minutes, they must pay themselves back with 6 minutes of activity. Within this spontaneous movement I advocate competition between yourself, friends and family. For example, if I have been sitting for 30 minutes, I will schedule an alarm to remind me to move and I will go and do 2 minutes of skipping, record my score and send to my social network to see if they can compete against me. Here is an example of how you could record the data
Name – Martin
Duration – 2 minutes
Score – 95 skips
Very simple and easy to record and a little bit of fun in these otherwise isolated and potentially worrying times.
Human beings are social creatures, we evolved in small groups and genuinely depend on one another for survival. Much of our brain is devoted to communication such as recognizing faces, communicating verbally, listening and understanding language. The above strategy will allow you to communicate with those close to you and have some fun, light-hearted competition in the meantime.
How can a Personal Training track their clients NEAT?
Tracking NEAT can be a difficult task and there must be some accountability of the client’s behalf to trust your guidance and apply the strategies you have communicated to them. However here are 2 ways in which you can keep some accountability with your network
- Set up a social group such as on What’s App and have clients post videos of them competing and moving
- Get clients to complete 3 activity diaries for the week to make them log their movements and daily tasks
Like any strategy a trainer prescribes, we need to make sure that the action steps given are small and sustainable as well as familiar and predictable for our clientele.
Your job as a coach is to act as a support network for your clients and use your education and experience to help them progress to their desired outcomes as best you possibly can. One way to do that is to incorporate ways for them to increase their NEAT daily. As coaches we are here to turn our knowledge into actions and support our clients, friends and family as best we possibly can.