Embracing Incidental Activity
Lots of people struggle to find time for exercise, and that's normal. By choosing to embrace the movement demands of our everyday lives, we can become more active and improve overall health.
There is a strong body of evidence to support a simple, almost intuitive notion: physical activity benefits overall health and well being. Yet according to the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 80% of American adults do not meet the recommendation for weekly aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity. Simply put, we’re busy people and exercise often takes a backseat to the demands of life.
While that statistic is worrying, I find optimism in an everyday phenomenon that we’ve always participated in but maybe haven’t always embraced: Incidental Activity.
Incidental Activity is defined by the Australian Department of Health as “unstructured activity taken during the day, such as walking for transport, housework and the performance of activities of daily living.” The spirit of this concept is very straightforward: By simply going about our daily lives, we must eventually participate in some form of physical activity. Whether that means carrying grocery bags, racing to the bus stop or bending down to tie a shoelace, there are numerous daily tasks that require movement. The inflection point is your attitude. By choosing to embrace and capitalize on these daily activities, you will move more often- ultimately improving your physical health. The argument for incidental activity can basically be distilled down to “you have to move anyway, so embrace it and count it as exercise”.
Choosing to embrace incidental activity is really more of a lifestyle choice than a workout plan. You won’t get major results right away, and that’s not the point. The point is to build everyday habits that keep you moving- a body in motion tends to stay in motion. One of the major upsides is that incidental activity requires little forethought and planning- so don’t worry if you’re not wearing gym shoes.
Making Incidental Activity part of your daily routine is the easiest way to adopt new movement habits. If you are able, give a try to some of the suggestions below, and find what works best for you. Although these activities are ‘incidental’ in nature, you can choose to perform them with intent and consistency.
• If safe, replace car trips with cycling or walking. Or drive most of the way to work, then park and walk the final 10 minutes.
• Park in a spot farther than usual and get in some extra steps. If you park in a ramp, you can up the challenge by parking on an upper floor and taking the stairs.
• Try standing or walking meetings.
• Switch to a standing desk. They may not save your life, but standing desks are a great resource if you have access.
• Use the restroom furthest from your office. Just an easy way to steal a few more steps.
• Take you break periods during the day. Use that time to get in a short walk, stretch, walk a flight of stairs- whatever you need to get your heart rate up. Exercise breaks are a great way to reset the body and mind.
• Talk to someone in-person rather than sending an email. If you have to walk to another building, that’s even better.
• Go for a walk during your lunch break. Even if it’s just 10 minutes, you’ll come back feeling refreshed, energized, and focused.
• Set an alarm to remind you to take activity/stretch breaks during the day. Even if it’s just for a quick stand and stretch, make sure to get up and move around often.
• Complete an Office Stretch.
• Take the stairs if possible.
• At your desk, make it a habit to stand up each time ‘something’ happens. Get a text? Stand up and stretch. New email? Stand and Stretch. You get the point. Choose something that occurs several times a day (not too many, though) and remind yourself: “each time *that thing* happens, I’m going to stand up and stretch.” Make it your own by replacing stand & stretch with pushups, lunges, etc.
• Find a coworker to join you as an activity partner. This is a great way to have accountability and social interaction with colleagues.
• Join MSU Moves programming on campus.
If you often find yourself crunched for time but wanting to get some exercise, I hope that you’ll consider embracing incidental activity. Accumulated activity throughout the day is just a valuable as single-bouts of exercise, so don’t worry if you’ve only got five minutes to spare. A handful of five-minute activity breaks and you’ll be right on track.
Want to learn more about MSU Moves classes, resources, and more? Check out our website: https://health4u.msu.edu/msu-moves
MSU Sustainability and Health4U are teaming up! Get active and learn more about sustainability initiatives at MSU with this weekly walking series. Walks will take place on Thursdays from 12:00p - 12:50p at various locations on campus.