What is Incidental Exercise?

In the whirlwind of modern life, the quest for a fitter, healthier self can seem like an uphill battle against our jam-packed schedules. Enter incidental exercise, the serendipitous saviour in disguise! This form of activity doesn’t demand gym memberships, designated workout attire, or even chunks of your day set aside for exercise. It’s the subtle art of weaving calorie-burning, muscle-strengthening movements into your daily routines without you even realising it. 

In this exploration, we’ll uncover the value of incidental exercise, decode its science-backed benefits, and offer practical strategies to infuse more of this subtle activity into your life. Ready to turn your mundane moments into muscle-making marvels?  


Understanding Incidental Exercise 

What is incidental exercise? It’s the physical activity that happens as a by-product of our daily tasks, rather than a structured workout. Think taking the stairs instead of the lift, squatting to pick up groceries, or standing while talking on the phone. 

While intentional exercise involves a conscious effort to move your body – like hitting the treadmill or focusing on a morning run – incidental exercise is the silent contributor, sneaking in benefits without the rigidity or time commitment that often deters us from traditional workouts. 


The Science Behind Incidental Exercise 

Physical activity, whatever its form, brings a myriad of health benefits. Incidental exercise is no exception, and it has the science to back it up. From weight management and boosting the immune system to reducing the risk of chronic diseases, the benefits of squeezing in a few extra movements add up over time. 

Incidental exercise doesn’t just warm up your body; it’s a heart-healthy habit. Daily activities that count as incidental exercise, such as brisk walking, can strengthen your heart. Tasks like scrubbing the floor, gardening, or even lifting children help maintain muscle mass and bone density, crucial for longevity and an active lifestyle. 


Strategies to Increase Your Incidental Exercise 

Incorporating more movement into your day doesn’t require a complete overhaul of your routine. Small tweaks can make a significant difference. 

Simple Modifications for a More Active Lifestyle 

  • Take the Stairs: Whenever you face the choice between lifts and stairs, opt for the latter. Climbing stairs is a fantastic way to strengthen your legs and improve cardiovascular health. 
  • Walk and Talk: Convert phone calls into opportunities to move. Instead of sitting, walk around while chatting. 
  • Stretch During TV Time: Watching television doesn’t have to be a passive activity. Use this time to stretch or do yoga poses. 
  • Kitchen Workouts: Utilise time spent waiting for the kettle to boil or the microwave to ping by doing calf raises, squats, or any on-the-spot exercises. 
  • Ad Break Exercises: During adverts or breaks in your favourite show, challenge yourself to do a mini-workout or a set number of jumps, sit-ups, or push-ups. 
  • Active Transport Choices: Consider biking, walking, or even skateboarding for short journeys instead of driving or public transport. 
  • Gardening and DIY Tasks: Engage in gardening, painting, or any DIY tasks at home. Such activities are not only productive but also excellent ways to stay active. 
  • Make Chores Count: Turn household chores into a fitness routine. Perform lunges when vacuuming or calf raises when reaching for high shelves. 

These simple changes can increase your incidental exercise without you having to think too hard about it. 


Overcoming the Time Barrier: Incidental Exercise for Busy People 

Even the busiest individual can find time for incidental exercise. 

  • Park further away: When you’re running errands, park further away from your destination. The extra steps will add up over time. Or, if you use public transport, try getting off one stop early and walking the rest of the way. 
  • Incorporate Walking Meetings: If you’re having a one-on-one meeting, suggest making it a walking meeting. This switch offers a change of scenery and the chance to stretch your legs. 
  • Stand Up for Online Meetings: Convert at least one online meeting a day to a standing one. Consider a high table or a stack of books to elevate your laptop. 
  • Doing bodyweight exercises at your desk: Take mini breaks throughout the day to do some squats, lunges, or push-ups at your desk. 

Small changes like these can keep you moving within the confines of a hectic schedule. 


Examples of Incidental Exercise in Everyday Life 

You might be doing incidental exercise without even realising it. Here are some examples to inspire you to identify and amplify these opportunities. 

  • At Home: Turning Chores into Workout Opportunities 

Mopping, dusting, and vacuuming aren’t just about cleaning; they’re about activity too. Add in some squats, lunges, and stretches to transform your cleaning session into a dual-purpose workout. 

  • At Work: Boosting Physical Activity in the Workplace 

Being stuck behind a desk doesn’t mean you’re stuck in a sedentary state. Desk push-ups, leg lifts, and even calf raises during conference calls can collectively add up to notable physical gains. 

  • Leisure and Social Activities: Fun Ways to Stay Active 

When spending time with loved ones, opt for activities that get you moving, like playing with kids at the park, going for a hike, or dancing at a party. These social moments can also be fitness opportunities. 


Balancing Incidental and Intentional Exercise 

Incidental exercise is an excellent supplement to more structured forms of physical activity. By balancing the two, you achieve a more robust and holistic approach to fitness. While incidental exercise keeps you agile and maintains your baseline fitness, intentional exercise brings specific benefits, such as building muscle strength or working on cardiovascular endurance. Combining the benefits of both forms of activity in a way that suits your lifestyle is key. Your fitness plan should be a reflection of your personal goals and the activities you enjoy. 


Getting Started with Incidental Exercise 

Incorporating more incidental exercise into your daily life is simpler than you think. The key is to start small and build from there. 

Practical Tips for Incorporating More Activity into Your Day 

  • Identify Your Daily Routine: Take a close look at your typical day to see where you can integrate more movement. It could be during your commute, at work, or at home. 
  • Use Technology to Your Advantage: Fitness trackers and apps can motivate you by monitoring your activity levels and providing reminders to move. 
  • Involve Friends and Family: Turn activity into a social event. Walking or cycling with others can make exercise more enjoyable and less of a chore. 
  • Opt for Active Breaks: Instead of grabbing coffee or checking social media, use your break time to stretch or take a brisk walk. 
  • Make the Most of Waiting Times: Turn periods of waiting into an opportunity to be active. Use this time for stretching, standing, or walking around. 
  • Be Creative with Leisure Time: Choose active leisure activities like gardening, dancing, or playing sports instead of passive ones like watching TV. 


Setting Realistic Goals for Incidental Exercise 

Start by setting realistic and achievable goals that seamlessly integrate into your daily life, ensuring they are manageable and tailored to your personal capabilities. For instance, you might begin by committing to add an additional 100 steps to your daily routine. As this new habit becomes more ingrained and you find yourself adapting with ease, you can then consider gradually increasing this number. This approach allows for a smooth transition and fosters a sense of accomplishment, motivating you to continue making positive changes. 


Making Incidental Exercise a Habit 

The long-term benefits of living a more active lifestyle through incidental exercise are undeniable. It’s about making these actions habitual, so they become as natural as brushing your teeth or making your morning coffee. Reduced health risks, improved mood, and an overall sense of wellbeing are just a few of the many rewards that coming to terms with the power of incidental exercise can bring. 

The first step is often the hardest, but each tiny movement you make is a step towards a healthier you. Recognise the opportunities around you and seize them – your future self will thank you for it. 

In the end, it’s not about fitting a certain mould or falling into an exercise stereotype. It’s about appreciating the multitude of ways in which we can incorporate health-enhancing activities into our lives. Whether it’s the 20-minute yoga class or the walk you took to clear your head at work, every bit counts. It’s time to redefine what we consider ‘exercise’ and celebrate every movement as a victory towards a more active, vibrant life. 


Want more tips on improving your health and well-being while balancing a busy schedule, check out our blog on how to fit exercise into a busy schedule.