Optimize Health Beyond the Gym

Overall health is more than just training at the gym. You have to consider a lot of foundational pieces of your lifestyle if you want to optimize your health, wellness, and fitness level. These things include:

  • Nutrition– What do you eat? How much do you eat? 

  • Sleep– Are you sleeping 7+ hours per night? Is it quality sleep?

  • Water– How much water are you drinking throughout the day? Is your urine a pale yellow color?

  • Stress Management– What stress management techniques do you do throughout the day? What do you do to manage stress? How is your recovery from training sessions? Do you manage your training stress by taking rest days by modifying intensity/volume/load through deload days or weeks?

  • Training– How often do you train? Do you partake in a strength training regimen?

  • Non-exercise Activity– In this blog, we will discuss more details on non-exercise activity and how you can optimize it to benefit your overall health, fitness, and body composition. 

Metabolism Breakdown

There are four primary ways the body burns calories:

  1. Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR): This is also referred to as basal metabolic rate (BMR). This is the amount of calories your body burns just to be alive! If you were to lay in bed all day and do nothing, your body uses energy to keep the organs functioning. RMR accounts for 50-70% of your calories per day…the more muscle mass you have, the higher your RMR is. This is why people say “having more muscle on your body burns more calories”.

  2. Thermic Effect of Food (TEF): Energy is used to digest/absorb the food you eat. When you eat, you are consuming calories/gaining energy, but the body also expends energy to digest that food. This is about ~10% of your total calories per day.

  3. Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT): We burn energy from all of our small movements throughout the day. All of the fidgeting, walking, etc. adds up throughout the day, and we don’t even notice it! This is about 10-20% of the total calories you burn each day.

  4. Exercise Energy Expenditure (EEE): We’re all aware that we burn calories when we exercise, but most people are under the impression that this is what makes up most of our total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) which is not true. At most, it makes up about 10-20% of the total calories burned each day. 

What is Non-Exercise Activity?

As mentioned above, NEAT makes up about 10-20% of our Total Daily Energy Expenditure. For health and body composition, it comes down to more than just exercise training in the gym.

NEAT includes the activities that require energy and are done outside of your exercise regimen (chores, occupational tasks, and leisure time activities). Some common examples include walking to class, carrying your load of laundry up a flight of stairs, or swinging your golf club on your trip to Top Golf. 

Contrary to NEAT, there are sedentary activities, which have very low energy expenditure. Being sedentary is a common part of our lives, since many of us have office jobs, spend time behind a computer, play video games, or watch television for a bit each day. Although we don’t want to have long sedentary times and we aim to minimize it, we cannot (and should not) eliminate it altogether. 

Our goal is to balance NEAT, intentional exercise, and sedentary life. 

Guidelines on How to Increase Non-Exercise Activity

What can you do to maximize NEAT? Aim to add small acts of activity throughout your day beyond intentional exercise. When you train intentionally, you have easy steps to follow (sets, reps, weight, heart rate, speed, time, calories on machine, etc) and you can progress based on any of those variables. However, quantifying NEAT is a bit more difficult. If you want to increase NEAT, what do you measure? How can we make this quantifiable? The easiest way to do this is to track your daily steps and aim for certain daily goals. We recommend 8,000-10,000 steps as a general guideline. 

  • Aim for more if your lifestyle allows for it! However, do not go overboard and hyperfocus on going all out with this number. If you’d like to do more, aim for 15,000, but that is only if you’re already at the upper end.

  • If you are currently living a very sedentary lifestyle (<5000 steps), then aim for 7,500-8,000 steps. You will see good results from small jumps and the gradual change can be less stressful.

  • Some more information on daily steps:

    • Daily steps is associated with mental health/stress management benefits 

    • Other benefits include: augmenting benefits from exercise, improving sleep quality, lowering blood pressure, decreasing body fat, and cardiorespiratory fitness and physical abilities 

      • Study: Sullivan Bisson, A.N., S.A. Robinson, and M.E. Lachman, Walk to a better night of sleep: testing the relationship between physical activity and sleep.Sleep Health, 2019. 5(5): p. 487-494.

      • Study: Hanson, S. and A. Jones, Is there evidence that walking groups have health benefits? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med, 2015. 49(11): p. 710-5.

    • It has been reported that those who have achieved sustainable fat loss average at ~12,000 steps per day. It also helps promote healthy fat loss

      • There was one research that showed people lost 7% body fat in one year just by walking 12,000 steps per day and not changing much else in their lifestyle.

    • One of the most popular studies that was recently released highlighted that the risk of death decreased linearly from 2,700 to 17,000 steps per day. 

      • However, as mentioned above, don’t jump too far up and gradually progress. This will help you mentally as you adjust to the change in lifestyle, resulting in a more sustainable approach.

      • Study: Jayedi, A., A. Gohari, and S. Shab-Bidar, Daily Step Count and All-Cause Mortality: A Dose-Response Meta-analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. Sports Med, 2021.

Another suggestion is to look at your sedentary activities and replace one of them with an activity that has a higher energy expenditure (that is not specifically exercise). For example, if you spend an hour a day watching television after work, aim to replace 2-3 of those TV sessions with doing chores around the house, gardening, walking your dog, etc. Small changes build up over time.

Our goal at Telos is to help you create a customized plan for the next steps. If you are ready to improve your fitness, nutrition, and overall health, reach out to us below!