How Important is Incidental Exercise?

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Firstly, what is incidental exercise? Incidental exercise is the exercise you get from activities not intended as exercise. So things like gardening, housework, a walk to the bus stop or a walk to pick up the kids from school would all be considered incidental exercise.

A 2005 study from the Endocrine Research Unit, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, USA, found that obese individuals were seated, on average, 2hrs per day longer than lean individuals, equating to a difference in energy expenditure of around 1500kJ (357cal) per day. These findings lend themselves to a very simple message: replace seated time with standing or moving time wherever possible.

For people with a lot of weight to lose, incidental exercise is extremely important. It is often low weight bearing, gentle exercise that is ideal in the initial stages of a long weight loss journey.

Incidental exercise comes far more naturally to some people than others. Both environmental factors and genetic factors play a role in this. People with active jobs, such as tradies, would get plenty of incidental exercise during their day but for the majority, who are desk workers, incidental exercise can be harder to come by. Also, people who live in cities that encourage walking, cycling and taking public transport will get far more incidental exercise in each day than those in cities with sub-par public transport systems (*cough* Perth *cough*). Personality type, genetics and how you were raised will also play a role.

Are you the type of person who will drive right to the door to pick up your kids from school? Or would you park a few blocks away to avoid the congestion? Would you park at the back of the parking lot to get a shady spot? Or would you prefer to park as close as possible to avoid the extra walk? Do you spend most of your working day sitting down? Or does your job require you to be on your feet repeatedly? Do you automatically take the lift or the escalator? Or will you look for the stairs? If you are the first person on all occasions then chances are you don’t get enough incidental exercise.

If you’re not the kind of person who sub-consciously looks for opportunities to minimize sitting hours, then increasing your daily dose of incidental exercise can be a challenge! It takes practice! Have a look at what you do during the average week and note down times when you can reduce the number of hours you spend sitting. My mum has a habit of standing up when she’s on the phone. Sometimes she might be on a conference call for 2hrs. That’s 2hrs spent standing instead of sitting!

Other opportunities to get some incidental exercise might include:

  • Walk to your local supermarket instead of drive. It’s probably not as far as you think it is!
  • Use your lunch break at work to go for a walk.
  • Gardening, vacuuming, sweeping, mopping and cleaning.
  • Drop/pick-up your kids from school a few blocks away and walk the rest of the way.
  • Don’t automatically go for the closest car park.
  • Take the stairs!

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