NEAT Ways to Enhance Your Heart Health During British Heart Week

NEAT Ways to Enhance Your Heart Health During British Heart Week

Lynne Sesinye-Samwinga

This week (7-15 June of every year) is British Heart Week. This awareness event, spearheaded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), aims to play a leading role in the fight against disease of the heart and circulation so that it is no longer a major cause of disability and premature death. To mark this event some of the British Heart Foundation shops had a half-price sale, were accepting more donations from the public and also giving leaflets on heart health and disease. The donations given, help the BHF fund hundreds of top scientists all over the UK to study heart diseases (cardiovascular disease being one of them) in people around the world, advancing their understanding of how nature and nurture work together in causing heart disease and strokes.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) includes all heart and circulatory diseases, including coronary heart disease, heart attack, congenital heart disease, angina, hypertension, stroke and vascular dementia. Exercise can reduce the risk of heart disease. Lack of exercise, increases the risk of insulin resistance, poor blood sugar control, and a high level of the fatty acids called triglycerides. This, in turn, increases the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Humans were created to be on the move and not to be inactive for extended periods of time. Unfortunately, civilisation has brought along with it all the comforts of convenience which in many cases precondition people to a bare minimum of activity. Such inactivity has been shown by research to be a major factor in public health in the UK and beyond. For instance, it is estimated that nearly 1 in 4 adults, and over 1 in 15 children aged 2-10, are obese in the UK population (DH, 2017). Many diseases such as type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and heart and liver disease, have all been associated with obesity. With direct costs to the NHS estimated to be £4.2 billion per year (DH, 2011), obesity is a major public health issue in the UK and many other parts of the world.

What is NEAT?

Dr James Levine proposed a low intensity physical activity called NEAT, which stands for Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). This is energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise. It ranges from the energy expended walking to work, typing, performing yard work, dancing, going to work or school, shovelling snow, playing the guitar, swimming or walking in the modern mall, undertaking agricultural tasks and fidgeting. Even trivial physical activities increase metabolic rate substantially and it is "the cumulative impact of a multitude of exothermic actions that culminate in an individual's daily NEAT." It is, therefore, not surprising that NEAT explains a vast majority of an individual's non-resting energy needs. In the past we have been told of the benefits of physical activity and that people who "exercise" live longer, healthier lives than people who don't exercise. The focus has been on performing structured sessions of moderate or vigorous exercise (e.g. 30-60 minutes of aerobic exercise).

While intense physical activity has a tremendous health impact/benefits, growing evidence suggests that accumulating short bouts of low intensity physical activity throughout the day can also have substantial health benefits, which may even rival those associated with more vigorous sessions of exercise. The more NEAT activities engaged in each day, the more calories burnt, which, in turn, helps maintain a healthy weight and improves overall health.

There are simple ideas to enhance your NEAT:

  1. Take the stairs not the lift – If you want a NEAT activity that really pays dividends, take the stairs whenever possible.

  2. Leave your desk alone – For those who work in offices, it can be tempting to have lunch at the desk, drink water from the desk and hence sit for hours without much movement. Simple habits such as taking regular walks to the water fountain for a drink, will increase your NEAT.

  3. Play with your kids ‒ If you can carve out even a few minutes for playing catch, kicking a ball or walking down to your neighbourhood park, you will be spending precious time with your offspring while racking up NEAT. They too will benefit. 

  4. Get fit on your way to work – Cycling to work, walking part of the way, or the entire journey to work are excellent ways to keep fit. Your journey times may be increased but with good planning, it is possible to build an active element to your journey to work. Others may benefit from getting off one stop prior to their final destination on the bus, tube or metro train. If you need to drive, try to park further away from your office and walk the rest of the way.

  5. Walk your way to fitness ‒ Walk to school, to visit friends, to the shops, or other places in your neighbourhood. Buy a pedometer. Get health benefits and aim for 10,000 steps a day. 

  6. Discuss project ideas with a colleague at work while taking a walk. Walk over to someone's desk at work rather than calling them on the phone. We live in an age where you can even send each other text messages while living in the same house but in different parts of the building. 

  7. Stand while talking on the telephone. Pace around while you talk on the phone. 

  8. Avoid the lifts if you are able to ‒ Take the stairs instead of the lift, or get out of the lift a few floors early then use the stairs. When using escalators, walk up rather than standing still.

  9. Go for a brisk walk during your lunch break. Use a pedometer and keep track of how many steps you take. 

  10. Drink plenty of water ‒ This ensures plenty of trips to the kitchen as well as to the bathroom. 

  11. Clean your home regularly. Be less efficient while cleaning the house by alternating tasks on different floors, so you have to go up and down the stairs more often. Even when not cleaning walk up and down the stairs a couple of times in your house. 

  12. Do garden work ‒ Research has also shown that gardening is therapeutic and relieves stress. 

  13. Take family walks ‒ It is also a good excuse to take a break from gadgets and actually bond by have a conversation with family.

  14. Use public transport ‒ This means walking to get public transport. 

  15. Disconnect your television for the summer and take a break from the couch. Resist being a couch potato. 

  16. Walk in the modern indoor malls especially during the cold season (winter months) or when it's raining. 

  17. Jumping jacks on the spot in your house or garden would be a good idea. Clap your hands in the air a couple of times. You could also do some jump rope exercises in your garden.

  18. Fidget your feet ‒ Toe tapping and raising your heels while seated are not only NEAT exercises, they also work the muscles in the lower legs.

There plenty more NEAT ways to enhance your health. NEAT is actually not a new concept. Seventh-day Adventists, have championed physical activity and health promotion for decades now. As far back as 1905, Ellen White wrote about the importance of activity:

"Action is a law of our being. Every organ of the body has its appointed work, upon the performance of which its development and strength depend. The normal action of all the organs gives strength and vigour, while the tendency of disuse is toward decay and death. Bind up an arm, even for a few weeks, then free it from its bands, and you will see that it is weaker than the one you have been using moderately during the same time. Inactivity produces the same effect upon the whole muscular system. Inactivity is a fruitful cause of disease." (MH, pp. 237. Read from pages 237-240.)

The Bible is not silent concerning our health either. 3 John 1:2 says, "Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers."

Physical fitness is a good thing. Timothy states that physical conditioning is of some importance, though less important than a godly life. He says in 1 Timothy 4:8, "For bodily exercise is of value, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come."

Although there is nothing revolutionary about the above ideas, being conscious about them will help make the best choices which provide us with more opportunities to NEAT our way to better health.

By just doing simple daily manual task activities, NEAT can be enhanced throughout the workday and at home. These activities should be encouraged in childhood and continued during adulthood.

Modern human societies are reaping the terrible results of convenience. Obesity and other lifestyle-related health conditions have all been linked to inactivity.


[1] DH Obesity. Department of Health, Available here

[2] White, E.G. (1942) Ministry of Healing. Nampa, ID: Pacific Press Publishing.

[3] New King James Bible