You’ve probably heard it before: exercise is good for you. It may even be the single most important thing you can do for your health. Certainly, along with a balanced diet of better foods and regular GP check-ups, exercise – both planned and incidental – is one of the keys to staying healthy.
So, how much exercise should you be doing? The Department of Health recommends that the minimum exercise requirements for adults between 18 and 64 are 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. The good news is that getting this amount of activity in doesn’t mean you have to live at the gym. Nor do you have to pound the pavement walking or running every single day.
Instead, you can easily incorporate incidental physical activity into your life as a healthy habit.
The simple way to get activity into your day
You’ve been saying for years that you can’t possibly block out enough time to exercise every day? Juggling work, the kids, family, pets, washing and housework is exhausting.
The good news is that you don’t have to commit to an expensive training plan – or even a gym class – to get the activity your body needs.
That’s because incidental exercise is a great way to incorporate physical activity into your day without taking up too much extra time. You don’t even have to worry about getting out of the house.
So, what’s the definition of incidental physical activity? Physiotherapist Brad McIntosh says that, “Incidental exercise refers to physical movement that’s done in small amounts. It gradually builds up your total amount of activity for the day.”
He goes on to explain that increasing the amount of incidental exercise you do helps to keep you more active throughout the day. This can help to reduce the risk of some of the health conditions that are linked to being sedentary.
So, what are some examples of incidental activity?
Brad says that you probably don’t realise all the things you might already do that count as physical activity.
For a start, there’s vacuuming and mopping the floors. Then there’s the ironing. And some of the other ways you probably get some incidental exercise throughout your week, without even realising it, include:
- mowing the lawn
- walking the dog
- going shopping
- lugging groceries into the house
- taking the kids to the park to play
- getting out in the garden and tackling those weeds
- washing the car
But there’s always an opportunity to add in a little more.
Hassle-free ways to boost your incidental exercise quota
Even if your job involves sitting at a computer all day, you can still boost your incidental activity. Try these five techniques to get ‘stealth’ exercise into your day:
- Take the stairs whenever possible. It’s an easy way to get your heart rate up and stretch your glutes.
- Limit the time you spend sitting at your desk. Take walking meetings, stand up during phone calls and take regular breaks to stretch your legs.
- Walk a bit further to and from the office. If you drive to work, park a little further away in the morning. Or, if you take public transport, jump off the bus or train a few stops earlier and walk the rest of the way.
- Look for opportunities to walk during the day. Instead of grabbing a latte at the cafe downstairs, take the opportunity to walk to one that’s a few blocks away.
- Pay attention to your heart rate. Use your Fitbit (or other fitness wearables) to not only track your activity progress, but also to monitor how often you get your heart rate up.
5 hacks to boost your incidental activity even further
If you’d like to get more movement in your day outside of work, here’s a few healthy hacks:
- Turn up the tunes. Listening to music while you do housework will increase your pace and get your hips swinging. Set up your playlist with upbeat songs (about 145 beats per minute).
- Get active with the kids. If they want to visit the park, ride your bikes there. Or, when the weather is good, take them to the beach or the local pool. And if they’re at sports training, why not walk around as you watch them, rather than sitting on the sidelines?
- Use a smaller water bottle. The smaller it is, the more often you need to fill it up – and those extra walks to the kitchen all add up.
- Encourage your friends to get active. Invite your girlfriends for a night out dancing, instead of meeting at the bar.
- Limit screen time for the whole family. Without the screens, you’ll naturally find yourself getting off the couch more.
Brad says that, in short, “A great way to increase your incidental activity is to take a look at a typical day and work out ways to challenge yourself to move more.”
Incidental exercise is easy
The government’s guidelines for sedentary vs physically active behaviour are clear, and most of us aren’t moving nearly enough.
Increasing our incidental exercise builds more activity into our days, which lets us reap the rewards of a healthy life – no gym required.
Free Beginner Activity Calendar Tool
Be sure to check out our free Ways To Move programs for tips and tricks curated by our experts to kickstart your movement journey, including access to free resources such as our Free Beginner Activity Calendar Tool!
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Brad McIntosh is a highly-trained and well-regarded physiotherapist with a particular clinical and research interest in knee rehabilitation.
Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board June 2021