Working out: If you’re not in the habit, it’s not always fun to get started. Good news though! Non-exercise exercise is possible: Lots of everyday activities, hobbies, and recreation can count as physical activity.
Physical activity has a big impact on maintaining good cardiovascular and metabolic health, prevents and helps manage joint pains, and can help with weight loss or management, if that’s your goal. You might not get 100% of the physical benefits that a big gym session would provide, but as it turns out, it’s the small amounts of day-to-day movement that are really important! In exercise science, we call this “incidental exercise” because it happens as a byproduct of your daily life. And there’s a growing body of evidence that supports it’s health benefits. There are options everywhere you look, but if you’re not sure what might count, read on.
Non-exercise exercise at home
Being a responsible adult that lives in a home means you are probably already ticking some of these boxes. You might notice that a big day of house chores wears you out. That’s non-exercise exercise!
Vacuuming and mopping: Push, pull, push, pull – it’ll get your heart rate up. Bonus points: Swap arms halfway through to help maintain balance in left side-right side movement ability. If your back gets sore, stop, place your hands on the back of your hips, soften your knees and gently extend your back to bend backwards.
Window Washing: Will have you moving your shoulders and arms in a low-stress way you’re not used to, which is great for reducing injury risk and maintaining joint mobility. Aim to swap arms frequently to help maintain left side-right side balance (see above).
Gardening / Yard work: The most common heavy lifting of around-the-house exercise. May including lifting, carrying, and placing heavy objects, reaching or stepping in movements that are less common, and generally being on your feet all day. Like vacuuming, if you’re finding you’re stuck in a single position for a longer period, stop and give your body a break by doing the opposite of that movement.
Washing the car: Reaching, stretching, and squatting down. Keeps you moving!
Playing with the kids: Might involve running around after them – good cardio. Might involve getting down and up off the floor – good joint mobility. Might involve staying down on the floor – good opportunity to give the hips a little bit of a stretch.
Carrying kids around: Even small kids get heavy pretty quickly! Carrying the kids around adds to the cardio effect of walking and moving around, but it also create poor posture as you shift your torso and hips to carry more comfortably. Make sure you swap sides, because your body does best with equal stress and effort.
DIY home maintenance: The other heavy lifting you might do around the house, DIY work often has you moving into different positions that you might during the course of a normal day. Moving through different positions is great for maintaining flexibility and joint health, and can keep posture good and pain at bay.
Non-exercise exercise at the office
If you have an office job, you know how challenging it can be to maintain any amount of movement. Haven’t we all looked up from email to realize that we haven’t moved in three hours?
Getting coffee: Adds steps to your daily step count. Two bonuses on this: Coffee (or tea, or your beverage of choice) does actually count towards your daily hydration goals. (Even though it has a mild diuretic effect, you drink more liquid than you’ll excrete.) Plus, better hydration means more bathroom breaks, and therefore even more steps.
Fidgeting: The subconscious movement that your parents might have scolded you for actually burns calories. While it will not amount to much extra, it does count.
Taking the stairs: One of the most bang-for-buck activities you can do, as it gets your heart rate high and gives the big muscles in your legs a bit of a workout. Pro tip – Minimize knee pain risk by stepping with as much of your foot on the stair as you can.
Standing around, i.e. Serving customers, using a standing desk: Simply maintaining a standing position takes almost twice as much energy as sitting does, and can reduce stress and strain on through the front of the hips and the lower back. All standing, all the time has it’s own set of problems though, so your best bet is to alternate postures.
Get away from the desk, i.e. make your own copies, have face to face conversations: More steps, more steps, more steps. Plus, in-person conversations can be just as fast as email (and sometimes a lot more clear!).
Non-exercise exercise out and about
Going out and doing stuff makes a big difference to your levels of physical health and fitness. Why spend your free time sitting around? Non-exercise exercise opportunities abound in our daily lives and free time.
Grocery shopping: Again, more steps. Walking is good! Bonus: If you’re not getting much, use a hand basket and carry your groceries for some added strength training. This goes for any sort of shopping, really.
Riding a bike: You don’t have to ride like you’re on the Tour de France to get some good for your body. Go for a cruise to help keep your legs strong and get some cardiovascular work in.
Hiking: A great way to gently challenge your joints and muscles, since the paths aren’t even and smooth. Being out in nature is an amazing way to boost your happiness quotient too.
Going for a walk: Doesn’t have to be fast, or far. There’s something about the rhythmic nature of aerobic exercise that makes it a meditation in movement, so you get some de-stress time as well as some gentle cardio work.
Playing in the pool: Fun! The pressure from the water gives your body something to work against, but it’s not so much resistance that it actually seems like work. This explains why you’re always more tired than you expect when you jump out.
Backyard games: Play with the kids. Set up teams for horseshoes or a beanbag toss. Or try an easy game of touch football. Just keep yourself on your feet and moving as much as you can. Your engagement will increase your enjoyment!
Now that you’re armed with these ideas, think about how much non-exercise exercise you might already be getting. If you feel like it’s still not as much as you’d like – maybe your step count is low, or you’re looking for an easy way to get started – find an extra “chore” or two to add into your day.