Can Incidental Activity Be Good For Your Health?

by Roki Prunali

Incidental Activity

What if I told you that some of your everyday mundane activities could actually be keeping you fit? In a fitness world where everyday there is a new acronym we are trying to keep up with, the latest that I have come across is HIIPA. High Intensity Incidental Physical Activity refers to everyday physical activities – just think about how when you haul your groceries up your three flights of stairs. For those of you whose physical activity is close to nil and whose lifestyles are mostly sedentary, you can kickstart your fitness by energizing your everyday chores.

Incidental Physical Activity is any activity and movement that is part of one’s daily life that is not done with the purpose of recreation or health. If any of your daily activities gets you huffing and puffing then you are already practicing HIIPA. Like I said before carrying your groceries, or climbing stairs, house cleaning, daily walking to get from place to place are all examples of how you are incidentally exercising without knowing it.

Emmanuel Stamatakis published an editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine on the topic and states that if sedentary people incorporate more of these activities into their daily routine and even repeat them (i.e. three to five sessions for 5 to 10 minutes per day) it can have advantages similar to High Intensive Interval Training (HIIT). Just as you might perform short bursts of high-intensity training followed by recovery in HIIT, pulling together a handful of short bursts of high intensity effort throughout the day can have similar psychological and physical health benefits. When considering differences in physical capabilities by age, sex and weight, many of our daily tasks could technically be considered “high intensity” physical activity. Again, this is the kind of activity that gets you out of breath enough to boost your fitness.

“There is a lot of research telling us that any type of HIIT, irrespective of the duration and number of repetitions, is one of the most effective ways to rapidly improve fitness and cardiovascular health, and HIIPA works on the same idea,” says Stamatakis.

An example that they provide in the study is that a typical middle-aged Australian woman – of whom 60 percent are overweight and/or unfit – will expend well over six times as much energy per minute when active compared to being at rest. This energy can be consumed simply by running and playing with children at a child’s pace, walking uphill, or riding a bike home from work. This amount of exertion is a standard measure for high intensity activity. The beauty of HIIPA is that engaging in activities that we are already doing as part of everyday life is much more realistic and achievable for most people.

Some fitness specialists believe that while these incidental daily activities are helpful, they should not substitute daily workouts. They view HIIPA workouts as a sort of a stepping-stone for those who have zero activity level, with these activities rising above their typical level. By starting off with these movements, sedentary people could transition towards more intense workouts. In the study, the more time people spent on incidental physical activities and the more intense the activity, the better their cardiorespiratory fitness was (a measure of their aerobic fitness level). By introducing a small behavioral change, you can start to challenge your body and get into the mindset that prepares you to take on more intense workouts than your daily chores.

So, if you are feeling sedentary and would like to start introducing HIIPA into your daily life with hopes of pursuing a more intense physical activity regime, here are small changes to get you there. Try opting to skip the elevator and taking the stairs numerous times a day. While you are doing household chores like vacuuming, add some squats. If you are taking public transportation, get off a few stops prior and walk the rest of the way. When going shopping, park your car far from the entrance.

When you attach the micro exercise to a daily task, you create a neurological association between the normal activity and the micro exercise. With this association, the behavior becomes a habit and therefore feels less like an obligation. It is a feasible way to move towards small attainable workout goals. Once you have become successful with adding these small activities, try adding workouts that challenge you a bit more. If the activities you are doing are challenging for you, then you will most likely see its benefits.

For a handful of reasons, I have become rather sedentary even though I am normally very active. To address this change in my lifestyle, I’ve implemented simple activities such as carrying my son instead of using the stroller, and walking him to the park rather than driving. Now that you know that even the smallest amounts of movement count, please drop us a line on how you are staying fit today.

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