A lot of emphasis is placed on ‘feeling the burn’, ‘getting your sweat on’ and ‘smashing a workout’ in the quest to lose body fat. There is even a lot written about the best kind of specific exercises to ‘burn body fat’. But how important is all of this to health and weight loss?

Our bodies are constantly storing and using body fat at various points throughout the day. Losing body fat doesn’t require a magic workout formula or ‘one weird trick’. It requires us to use more fat for fuel than we are storing over a sustained period of time. Exercise is a great way to increase out going energy expenditure, but it’s not the only way.

We expend energy when walking to work, around shopping centres or through parks and countryside. We also do this when playing football, cycling with friends or taking a call on the go rather than at your desk. Even when playing with your children, doing gardening, decorating the house or just standing vs sitting.

Variance in energy expenditure during different activities (5)

In the great scheme of weight loss, the variance in Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) i.e everything we do outside of formal exercise, can account for a variance in 2000kcal worth of energy expenditure in two similar weighted individuals. (1) This is pretty huge.

When compared to variances in exercise, a study found the difference between 40 mins of HIIT training vs 40 mins free weight resistance training to be 12kcal per minute during HIIT (around 480kcal) and 9kcal per minute during resistance training (around 320kcal) (2) This is less huge.

So, just as making mindful changes to the quality of your nutrition is the best way to restrict the amount of energy going in. Making mindful changes to lifestyle activities is the best way to increase the amount of energy going out. Getting this energy balance right is ultimately what will determine weight loss. (3)

Appropriate exercise is fundamental for improved strength, body composition, mobility, function, cardio vascular health and sport specific training.

However, the biggest windows for improving health and reducing body fat, are found in changes to our nutrition and lifestyle activity.


A 2005 study using micro sensors to monitor movement found that in the subjects tested: ’Obese individuals were seated, on average, 2 hours longer per day than lean individuals… If obese individuals adopted the NEAT-enhanced behaviors of their lean counterparts, they might expend an additional 350 calories (kcal) per day.’ (4) 350kcal is the equivalent to a 40min resistance training session.


(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279077/ (2014) von Loeffelholz, C

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25162652 (2015) Falcone, PH, et al.

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3401553/ James O. Hill, Ph.D (2012)

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15681386 (2005) Levine, JA, et al.

(5) http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/72/6/1451… (2000) Levine, JA et al
(Data image attached)