Incidental exercises are movements you do during the day as part of your everyday life but which are not specifically planned exercises or exercise sessions (such as going to gym or boot camp). Incidental exercises assist in keeping you active more regularly as you go about your daily activities. They are becoming increasingly important in a culture where so many of us live such sedentary lifestyles. Our bodies were designed to do so much more physical activity (hunting, gathering, wood chopping, weeding, hand washing clothes etc.) than we currently do in today’s task-driven, efficiency-focused society where technology is making it way too easy to just sit around at home while still managing to remain highly task efficient.
If you haven’t done much exercise before, incorporating incidental exercises into your daily life is one of the easiest ways to begin breaking your body into the habit of exercising. Even if you exercise regularly, incidental exercises are great to supplement your workout routine. While you may go to the gym each day, it is often hard to incorporate exercise into the remainder of the day, particularly if you work in a sedentary job.
While incidental exercises may appear to only have a small and insignificant effect, the aggregate effect of doing many forms of incidental exercises can result in improvements in fitness and weight loss as well as in your overall health (the Heart Foundation “recommends that you include at least 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity (such as brisk walking) on most, if not all, days of the week for health benefits”.
In conjunction with proper nutrition and a planned workout program, incidental exercise can assist by keeping your metabolism moving, increasing your energy expenditure and consequently, increasing the amount of calories your body burns throughout the day. Remember though, incidental exercises should not replace planned and dedicated exercise time.
The following is a list of suggestions as to how you can incorporate incident exercise into your everyday life (and no doubt, you have heard of some of these before!):
1. Challenge yourself to do something fun and different each day that incorporates incidental exercise. This may also just help you to make your life a bit more interesting and get you out of the usual routine which all too often consists primarily of work, eat and sleep. For example:
a) Go fruit or vegetable picking. Alternatively, if this is not possible, just go for a nice walk around the lake, at the beach or up a mountain or hill. We recently went blackberry picking after work just to do something different. What we didn’t anticipate (and luckily we were dressed in appropriate attire!) was that we would be climbing rocky hills, walking (and slipping) down mountains, reaching and weaving to get to the best berries and walking back and forth over uneven ground searching for more bushes. In the end, not only did we end up with a nice lot of blackberries (and a nice lot of cuts and scrapes!), we also ended up with an incidental workout which had the effect of re-energising us after sedentary work day!
b) Go for a picnic or go camping. Often you will need to walk a distance to get to the best picnic and camping areas away from the crowds. This can be a great way to get you out of the house and moving about.
c) Go indoor rock climbing with your partner, kids or just some friends or colleagues. You may not have done this since high school – perhaps you may have lost your nerve a bit since then. So build up that courage and get out there and do it. Rock climbing will give you an amazing upper body (arms and back) workout.
d) Go snorkelling or even get into scuba diving. Scuba diving in particular requires you to walk some distance while wearing heavy diving equipment. Absolutely exhausting! Both require swimming which is a great fitness activity.
e) Join a sporting team. You will more than likely enjoy practising your skills outside of the actual sport itself (which really counts as incidental exercise). Additionally, the sports themselves can be a brilliant way to get exercise as you are less likely to even notice you are exercising while you are having fun!
f) Hire out a kayak (great for upper body) or paddle boat (great for lower body). Consider making a day or it. Often you will be able to find secret areas where you can stop and enjoy lunch.
2. One of the most well-known and foundational incidental exercises is to take the stairs rather than the elevator or escalator whenever you get the opportunity. If you work in a multistorey building, you have a fantastic opportunity to take the stairs not just once in a day but every time you go out!
3. Walk or bike ride to work or to the shops. One step down from this is to park further away with your car or get off a stop or two earlier at the bus stop and walk the remainder of the way. If you are required to carry shopping bags, even better – embrace the challenge.
4. If you work in a sedentary job, make a conscious effort to get up every 20-30 minutes and do some stretches or go for a walk. Perhaps try getting up to grab a glass of water every hour or so rather than keeping a jug or bottle at your desk. This not only ensures you drink enough water in a day but also makes you get up more frequently to go to the bathroom!
5. Undertake pelvic floor exercises while sitting on public transport or during ads while watching television. See an appropriately qualified allied health professional (such as a physiotherapist with expertise in the area) to find out more about how to do these types of exercises.
6. Laugh more. This will not only result in your contracting several muscles in your body (abdominal, shoulder, facial and back muscles just for a start!), it may also result in other improvements to your health. There is a strong body of research that suggests that laughter has a number of benefits to both physical and mental health and wellbeing.
7. If you live in a multistorey house (and do the washing), fold your washing on another level and then carry it up or down the stairs bit by bit to put it away. It might work for you to fold washing while watching your favourite television show and then jumping up during each ads to take a bundle to put away.
8. Do some gardening or even just cleaning the house or the car. Gardening if a great way to work out a range of muscles including lower body (squatting) and upper body muscles (digging with a shovel, raking or pulling weeds). Same with cleaning – vacuuming, ironing, mopping and cleaning windows and showers can really build up a sweat. Having some high energy music on while doing these tasks (which you may consider mundane and undesirable) can really increase your energy levels and motivation to do the task but also the number of movements you put your body through when doing them.
9. Play with kids. Whenever you have an opportunity to actually play with kids, take it up rather than just sitting watching them. Crawl, run, swing or push on swings, throw a ball or Frisbee, participate in small challenges (who can get to the large tree first) walk to the park or swim at the beach or in the pool.
10. Walk your dog if you have one. If you don’t have a dog, consider making a social event of it and going for a walk with a friend (and their dog if they have one). Shake up your routine a bit and pick some different routes to your usual ones. Try to incorporate some hills, beach walks (sand is great to walk on!), stairs and even mountains.
11. If you work in an office or other job where you need to regularly access the printer, retrieve your printing each time you print rather than waiting until the printing builds up to a substantial bundle (which can be a pain for everyone else in any event). Even consider printing to a printer that is further away if you work in a big office.
12. Stand up when you can. Prolonged standing can sometimes be a real effort if you are used to working in a sedentary job and will certainly result in you burning more calories than you would if you were sitting. Standing work desks may be an option you wish to explore.
In short, while incidental exercises should only supplement and never replace planned exercise programs or sessions, there are definite benefits that can be gained through incorporating incidental exercises into your daily life (whether or not you are a gym junkie or a sedentary office worker). Consider taking some time out to strategise about how you can best incorporate incidental exercises into your daily routine. You may also wish to take the opportunity to challenge yourself to learn a new skill or simply make life a bit more exciting and different to your usual routine.
Let us know whether you already incorporate incidental exercises in your own daily life. Perhaps you know some other creative ways people are keeping active outside of their planned exercise routines.