How to Boost Incidental Activity
Incidental exercise is activity you do every day without even thinking about it. Running up the stairs, playing football with your kids, washing the car – all these tasks get your blood pumping and contribute to your overall fitness.
However much we exercise, chances are we also spend too much time sitting. Most of us spend long periods at a desk every day and too much time behind the steering wheel. Netflix has a lot to answer for.
We know incidental activity can help people who don’t normally exercise get their required 30 minutes a day, but what about those of us who love to exercise and do it frequently?
Does taking the stairs really make a difference to our health and if so, what else can we do to boost incidental activity?
What are the benefits of incidental exercise?
Incidental activity gets your heart pumping in exactly the same way as the time you spend in the gym or pounding the pavement. Your oxygen levels rise enabling your blood to deliver energy to your muscles and tissues more effectively.
People who exercise regularly, whether they swim laps, do a dance class or play tag with their kids in the park, are less likely to have weight problems or suffer from heart disease. They also have a stronger immune system and sleep better. Physical activity boosts memory, confidence and overall happiness. And to top if off, they live longer too.
But what if you already play football, practice yoga or smash triathlons? Is incidental exercise really necessary?
However many lengths you swim, or meters you run, sitting for long periods is bad for your health. As Merchant argued in the Harvard Business Review, “sitting is the smoking of our generation” as it increases the risk of cancer, heart disease, and type-2 diabetes.
Incidental exercise can improve your immediate quality of life too.
Ever felt sleepy in the afternoon? A short brisk walk at lunch or even around the office will get the blood flowing and boost your energy levels. Stiff from sitting at your desk too long? A few stretches can improve circulation.
Ever felt self-doubt creeping in at work? Get those endorphins on your side. Physical activity not only makes you perform better by improving memory and cognition, it also increases your self-confidence. Stressed, maybe even a little depressed at work? Incidental exercise can help you relieve frustration and boost your mood.
And all these short bursts of activity during the day have the added benefit of helping you perform better at your regular exercise by building strength and maintaining flexibility.
Top tips for increasing incidental activity
So how can you build incidental exercise into your daily routine without your work colleagues thinking you’re nuts?
Take the stairs – It might sound like a cliché, but it works. Taking the stairs isn’t only one of the best cardiovascular workouts, it has the added advantage of toning your leg muscles. Skip the elevator and the escalator and use the staircases at work, train stations, apartment buildings, and shopping malls. Once you start looking, you’ll see stairs everywhere!
Travel by public transport rather than driving and give up your seat to stretch your legs. If you can’t be parted from your car, park further away from your office or get off the bus a stop early and walk the rest of the way. Even better, get on your bike.
Get moving. Use a pedometer to measure your steps, download a walking app or use a Fitbit. Walk when you’re on the phone, or checking social media and messages. Aim for 1000 steps a day. Set an alarm to remind you to move every 30 mins. Send your printing to a printer down the hall so you have a walk to retrieve it.
Encourage your colleagues to have standing or walking meetings. Stretch your legs, burn some calories, and get the job done efficiently. See if your office will invest in standing desks, or sit on a gym ball rather than a chair.
Consider standing up, walking over and talking to your colleagues rather than sending an email. I know, crazy! Right?
Drink more water – Not only will you flush out the toxins and stay hydrated, getting up to visit the water cooler and go to the bathroom more often will get you moving.
Take a walk at lunch and really stride out. A good brisk 20-minute walk will get your heart pumping and is a great stress reliever.
If you’re traveling for work pack a jump rope, or take a walk in the evening rather than sitting in a hotel room (or bar).
Have an active social life. Rather meeting your friends for a drink or dinner, arrange to go for a walk with them, or do an exercise class, or visit a climbing wall. There are lots of fun social activities that will get you moving if you look for them.
At home, delight your family by doing your chores. Mow the lawn, vacuum the carpets, wash the car, clean the windows. Walk the dog an extra mile.
Cycle or walk to the shops rather than jumping in the car.
Break up TV watching with exercises on ad breaks, or if you have equipment at home, park it in front of the screen. Unroll your exercise mat in the lounge and do some stretches.
Play sports with your kids rather than just watching. Run around with them in the park, make an assault course at home. Play ball, throw a frisbee, take them swimming. If you don’t have kids, borrow someone else’s. Your friends will love you for it.
Convinced about the benefits of incidental activity?
Incidental exercise is an easy win. Take a moment to think about how to build activity into your everyday tasks and you’ll see the benefit in your energy levels and overall fitness.
Take the stairs. Your body will thank you for it!