Exercise burns fat, everyone knows that. But did you know that you also burn fat without exercise?

Your body is always chewing up fat for energy. How much energy you use up is called your metabolism. During periods of higher activity, your body needs to burn more calories than when you are at rest. But you even burn calories just sitting there. So you’re always burning fat, even without exercise. The key to staying lean is to not put it back on again…

Muscle is what burns fat. That’s why strength training is such an important component of an exercise program geared towards fat loss. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn doing everything.

(Fun fact: A calorie is just a unit of energy. Technically speaking, a food “calorie” is 1000 actual calories, which is the energy required to heat one liter of water by one degree centigrade.)

Ways You Burn Calories

The total number of calories you burn can be organized into three distinct categories:

1. Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), also known as ‘Resting Metabolic Rate’ (RMR).
BMR is the amount of energy your body uses to just stay alive. The functions of your organs and physiological systems comprise approximately 60-75% of your total calorie needs.

(More fun facts: The three organs most responsible for burning calories at rest are your liver, your brain, and your muscles, which burn 27, 19 and 18 percent of the RMR, respectively. It’s worth noting the brain alone uses about one-fifth of your RMR, which helps explain why you don’t think clearly when you’re hungry!)

2. Thermic Effect of food (TEF) is the energy your body uses to digest and utilize the food you eat. TEF makes up about 10% of daily energy expenditure.

3. Physical Activity accounts for the remaining energy expenditure — about 15-30% of your daily energy output.

(Exercise tip: High-intensity exercise burns more calories while you’re exercising, AND it increases your calorie burn even after you’ve finished working out. So the harder you work out, the more calories you burn after you’re done!)

Burn fat without exercise

When it comes to fat burning from physical activity, there are two different types of activity to consider:

1) Planned exercise, and
2) Spontaneous, non-exercise activities that occur every time you perform some sort of physical exertion, such as standing up from a seated position or walking up a flight of stairs.

burn fat on stairsWhile exercise is an important form of physical activity that can burn hundreds of calories at a time, the other forms of physical activity (called Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, or NEAT) play a significant role in maximizing the total amount of calories you burn throughout the day.

How you burn fat when you’re not exercising

Here are six things to know about NEAT and how it helps you reach your fat burning goals:

  1. Lipoprotein lipase (LPL) is an enzyme that plays a critical role in burning fat for energy. Remaining sedentary for long periods of time reduces levels of this enzyme. Conversely, moving around consistently throughout the day can help sustain LPL levels, and help you burn more fat.
  2. Standing makes a difference. A growing body of evidence shows that sitting still for too long is hazardous to your health. Simply standing up is one form of NEAT that can help increase your daily fat burn. Here are some ways to sit less.
  3. Your steps add up! The U.S. Department of Health has been promoting 10,000 steps a day as an achievable goal for daily physical activity. Even if you don’t make the 10,000 steps, adding extra walking into your day is an important component of NEAT that will burn calories AND add add health-promoting activity into your life.

    burn fat walking

  4. Walk or cycle for transportation. Have you ever been stuck in traffic during your commute and thought, “There has got to be a better way?” By choosing to walk or ride a bicycle for your daily commute, you can burn significant amounts of energy during an activity where most people spend their time sitting.

    Not up for biking? If you take a bus or train as part of your commute, getting off a stop or two early provides a great opportunity for some extra walking. Most errands are run in close proximity to home, so when you need to make that quick run for cooking supplies, walking to the store is a great way to increase your NEAT.

  5. There is cleaning, and then there is have-your-mother-in-law-over-for-dinner cleaning. We all know the difference. Doing additional tasks around the house, or putting extra effort into your daily chores can be a great opportunity to increase the day’s calorie burn.
  6. Play with your kids or your dogs. In this modern era of having an app for everything, there is no app for spending extra time with your family members. If you can carve out even a few minutes for playing catch, kicking a ball, or taking a walk, you will be spending precious time with your family AND burning some extra fat.

    An additional benefit to playing is that it also helps boost brain function and cognition, so not only are you burning a few more calories, you could actually be increasing your brain function as well.

If losing weight is your primary reason for exercising, don’t forget about the NEAT calories to aid in your objective. Increasing NEAT by 200 calories (the equivalent of walking about 40 total minutes) will burn an extra 10 pounds of fat in 6 months!

While seemingly insignificant, the extra little activities that burns fat without exercise create a foundation for long-lasting weight loss success.


If you’re willing to burn even more fat WITH exercise – or through a smart nutrition plan without exercise – contact Basics and Beyond fitness & nutrition to discuss options.