Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) is the energy expenditure of all physical activities other than volitional sporting-like exercise. NEAT includes all those activities that render us vibrant, unique and independent beings such as going to work, playing guitar, toe-tapping and dancing. The factors that account for the 2000 kcal day−1 variability of NEAT can be categorized as environmental or biological. The environmental determinants of NEAT can be view using one of two models. In the egocentric model we consider a single person as the focus, e.g. ‘my job’. In the geocentric model we consider the ‘environment’ as the focus, e.g. well-lit and safe walk ways. These models provide us with a theoretical framework to understand NEAT and how best to intervene to promote NEAT. As well as environmental effectors of NEAT, there are also biological regulatory mechanisms that enable us to account for three-quarters of the biological variance in susceptibility and resistance to fat gain with human over-feeding. NEAT is likely to be regulated through a central mechanism that integrates NEAT with energy intake and energy stores so that NEAT is activated with over-feeding and suppressed with under-feeding. In conclusion, NEAT is likely to serve as a crucial thermoregulatory switch between energy storage and dissipation that is biologically regulated and influenced, and perhaps over-ridden, by environment. Deciphering the role of NEAT may lead to a better understanding of the pathogenesis, prevention and treatment of obesity.