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Incidental Exercise: How Little Bits of Movement Make a Big Difference

February 19, 20200 CommentPhysical activity

There is a difference between what is known as incidental activity and exercise, but the terms are often combined into the expression “incidental exercise,” and it describes physical activity done by the body that is not planned exercise. In other words, there is a very common recommendation made by fitness and health experts that we should park our cars far from the destination and walk, or never use an elevator and simply take the stairs whenever possible. Those are both incidental exercises or activities, and they are not the same as heading to a fitness centre to spend an hour in a class or using weight training systems.

Incidental Exercise or Activity Explained

According to one expert, incidental exercise or activity refers to any scenario in which you choose to move rather than sit passively and includes:

  • “Walking instead of driving
  • Playing outside instead of a board game with the kids
  • Walking the dog instead of letting him roam the yard
  • Standing more often at work
  • Moving while watching TV”

Intentionally adding more incidental exercise to the average day will boost you into a more active lifestyle. Yet, while we are all told that half of an hour of exercise each day is beneficial, it doesn’t actually offset a full day sitting at a desk. In other words, there is such a thing as a “sedentary athlete,” or someone who trains but who is the proverbial “couch potato” or “desk jockey” the rest of each day.

Fitness expert Neville Owen explains that the “average person sits 9.3 hours a day. Even if you are physically fit, this high amount of inactivity is bad for your health,” and as Owen reported, “the more a person sits, the higher the risk of mortality. Hence, we not only need to find time to exercise, but we also need to find ways to sit less.” 

And that is what we find in incidental exercise. 

Does it mean you won’t have to do any planned or structured exercise? No, it does not.  It is only through a combination of regular and incidental exercise that the optimal level of health can be reached. And by planned exercise, we mean:

  • Strength training and muscle building – This would be the weight lifting or body-weight exercises that help to strengthen and use multiple muscle groups
  • Aerobic or cardiovascular activity – This is walking, cycling, swimming, running, and fitness classes that get the heart rate pumping through any number of movements and routines
  • Flexibility or agility training – This is something that will target muscles but also incorporates stretching and elongating the muscles, such as yoga or Pilates

And while a lot of people who work out three to five times per week insist that this is enough and that incidental exercise is not necessary, if you do the math you see the error in their way of thinking. With a day lasting 24 hours, and eight of them allotted to sleep, it leaves 16 hours each day. If you are moving around for only one or two of them, you are extremely sedentary.

Incidental exercise is how you make up the difference. Just imagine the benefits of just getting up from your work desk every half of an hour or at a fixed time every hour for some basic stretching and muscle work. Going for a lunchtime walk or doing a ten-minute yoga workout on a break will all begin to add up. Taking the stairs, adopting a phone routine that makes you get up and walk around whenever on the phone, cleaning the house, and finding any way that you can to move around during the day will all demonstrate the health-boosting power of incidental activity.

Start making the most of your fitness level today with a bit of incidental exercise!

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