What is NEAT Certification and Why Does it Matter for Office Fitness Furniture?
If you’ve been reading our content for a while, you may be familiar with the works of Dr. James A. Levine of the Mayo Clinic, the man who first coined the term ‘sitting disease’ and is the father of the ‘treadmill desk’. His groundbreaking research eventually led the American Medical Association to declare “sitting is the new smoking,” and rank it as the new leading preventable cause of death.
A respected endocrinologist, researcher, and published author, Levine has arguably done more than anyone else in the medical community to bring the perils of prolonged sitting into the public eye. His work has largely focused on promoting NEAT™ (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) as a key weapon in the battle against the epidemic rate of obesity in modern societies—along with the ever rising rate of diabetes and other associated effects of sitting disease.
So what is NEAT exactly? In a nutshell, it refers to the energy we expend day-to-day through non-cardio-exercise movements such as tying shoelaces, fidgeting, walking to the store, cooking, gardening, or even just standing. Another way of thinking about it is any activity that raises your resting heart rate by 10% or more as compared to idle sitting—but to levels still well short of cardio exercise heart rates. You can read in more detail about NEAT in our blog post: The Difference Between a Treadmill Desk and an “Exercise Desk”. By incorporating little, seemingly unimportant motions throughout your day, you can improve your metabolism, which is not only important for weight management but also for long-term disease prevention.
The Advent of the NEAT Certification Program
There are a lot of faddish, gimmicky exercise gadgets out there promising extraordinary health benefits to the unwary consumer. But how are consumers and employers to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to this new category of “office fitness” products?
Levine struck on a brilliant way to help consumers understand these products’ potential health benefits. He launched the new NEAT™ Certification Standard—creating something akin to a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, or Energy Star Rating
Mayo Clinic is now leveraging its obesity laboratory’s expertise and highly-specialized equipment (like $50,000 calorimeters that directly measure metabolic benefits) to grant NEAT Certification to products that can prove they help consumers achieve their activity and nutrition goals.
Mayo Clinic’s lab research helps determine how much energy the subjects actually expend using a certain product in comparison to your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), or resting heart rate. While Fitbit™ and other wearable devices are inexpensive and ubiquitous, they can’t accurately measure caloric burn in the NEAT heart rate range because their algorithms are based on cardio heart rate. Treadmill desk users will be happy to know that they are burning more calories at their desk than their wearable devices indicate. The problem is that these devices are ineffective at measuring speed, distance, and step counts while walking at a slower-than-normal pace. Normal walking speed is around 3.1 mph, but treadmill desk users walk at a more deliberate pace—one to two-thirds this speed—well outside the competent range of their wearable devices.
To qualify for NEAT certification, a company must send its product(s) in for testing. Measurement devices, educational offerings, sports and recreation equipment, exercise gear and furniture must meet certain category-specific requirements to get the prestigious seal of approval.
Products qualify for testing if they enable users to increase their heart rate by at least 10% or enable the user to spend more time at their active workstation (e.g. how a quality anti-fatigue mat can enable a worker to spend 3-4x longer each day standing than sitting).
What Office Products Are NEAT-Worthy?
While Mayo requires all candidate products to be sent to their Arizona labs for testing, there are already some very obvious candidates, listed below. But innovators keep coming up with new ways of enabling activity at workstations, so watch this space for new categories:
Treadmill Desk — Inherently NEAT
Since Dr. James A. Levine’s research of NEAT led him to invent the treadmill desk back in 2007, one could say it’s an inherently NEAT piece of office equipment. Not only does it increase energy expenditure over sitting by an impressive 210.5% (at 2 mph speed), it also motivates and tracks the non-exercise activity, that is, walking. Most quality treadmill desks are equipped with some stat tracking software, enabling a user to check their speed, distance, time walked, and more. This functionality creates a benchmark for friendly competition in the workplace, and can motivate workers looking for data-rich evidence of their accomplishments.
A lot of studies have shown walking to be the most effective calorie-burning office activity. In addition, it offers a lot of positive side effects like increases in creativity, productivity, memory and attention, reduction of stress and anxiety, improved circulation, reduced low-back pain, prolonged life, and strengthening of the bones and muscles.
Standing Desks, Standing Tables, and Standing Desk Converters
Standing in one place does not result in a significant increase of energy expenditure over sitting, according to a study published in a Journal of Physical Activity and Health. However, as soon as you start working—typing, pacing while on the phone, fidgeting, and shifting your weight to relieve tension in your back and legs—the Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis kicks in. And since the majority of people don’t just stand (even in the office environment), the difference in energy expenditure between sitting and standing can reach up to 16.7%, meaning your standing desk or desk converter can keep your energy expenditure more than 10% higher than sitting.
Although James A. Levine himself promotes ‘walk-and-talk meetings’, a lot of companies do require employees to use laptops and mobile devices during meetings. Standing meeting tables are a great solution because they allow workers to take a break from their chairs while providing a convenient way to take notes and charge their devices during longer meetings.
Aids & Accessories
A few other office fitness products have become pioneers in testing for a NEAT certification, and more keep coming. It’s been proven that balance boards, fidget footrests, and desk cycles increase the amount of energy expenditure by 19.2%, 20%, and 84.5%, respectively. Other benefits of such devices include improved blood circulation and blood glucose regulation.
Products that have a high NEAT score may encourage movement to the point where it is easier to complete more passive tasks such as reading, while typing may prove more challenging. If you choose to purchase a product that decreases your typing ability (like a desk cycle), plan to use your NEAT product during specific times—like while catching up on emails or listening to a webinar.
Standing mats do not directly increase NEAT, but they definitely help prolong standing time, which inevitably results in increased energy expenditure. (Using active standing mats must surely increase the effect). Standing mats are also important because they prevent the back pain that can come from standing for long periods of time.
Stay Tuned Right Here for Official Updates on NEAT Certifications
NEAT certification has an impressive body of research behind it. It regulates manufacturers’ claims and offers the consumer and the employer valuable insight into the proven versus marketed benefits of any given product. It also promotes physical activity and gives companies a real chance to stand out in a crowd of competitors. Each time the NEAT trademark appears on product packaging, it raises awareness of the negative health effects of sitting, and provides royalty-based funding to the Mayo Clinic for furthering their research.
Our website and the other Office Fitness Media sites will continuously report on the lab’s latest findings, and how the NEAT Certification program is progressing. We are proud to support the Mayo Clinic’s paramount research on NEAT benefits, and will continue to review new, innovative NEAT-compliant products. Sign up here for interviews, webinars and other information downloads from Dr. James Levine and his colleagues (specifically about the NEAT Certification Program and newly-awarded products).
We’ve also agreed to put the highest review priority on products that receive NEAT Certification, and to create a new cross-category grouping of all our reviews of NEAT Certified products. We’ve even added a ‘NEAT Certification’ field to all our quick info boxes (at the top of each review), where we indicate whether a product has been awarded the prestigious NEAT Certification.
To keep in the loop about everything that’s new in office fitness, sign up for our WorkWhileWalking newsletter.