Winter is a great excuse for putting our feet up. But it’s also a red zone where exercise is concerned. Grey days and frosty mornings make it all too easy to keep to the couch longer than is good for us, and who wants to go walking in the rain? Sadly, little by little, the coldest months have a habit of whittling away our regular exercise routine until, before we know it, we’re almost stationary!
If this sounds like you, and you want to tackle the problem, by all means call the gym or renew your subscription to the golf club. But if you want a more subtle (and less costly) means of getting moving again, incidental exercise may be the answer.
Incidental exercise is a low key way to build up the amount of activity you engage in every day. It tackles movement by creating opportunities to engage it, in small amounts, over a period of time. Walking to the mail box to collect the morning paper is an example of incidental exercise, as is vacuuming the house. What incidental exercise is not, is formerly organised activity. So, heading out for a hike with your walking group doesn’t count. Neither does the tai chi class at the park, or an afternoon at your social dance club. These are all excellent opportunities to get moving, but they’re not incidental exercise because they are conducted over a longer period of time, and involve you taking a significant chunk of time out of your day to attend them.
As for whether incidental exercise is enough to get you fit, that depends entirely on what you want to achieve. If you’re planning on running a half marathon any time soon, you’ll want to look beyond incidental exercise (and the same goes if you want to take up weight lifting). However the reason why incidental exercise is so important, is that it’s the perfect way to start exercising or, in the case of the winter couch potato, to revive your interest in exercise. Even better, because incidental exercise it so achievable, you’ll be motivated to continue with it.
Traditional incidental exercise suggestions abound. They include ‘taking the stairs instead of the lift’, ‘kicking a ball at the park with the grandies’, and ‘getting up from your chair (instead of reaching for the remote) to change the TV channel’. These are all great ways to move a little more, but the thing is, human beings crave novelty. If you stick with just a handful of traditional suggestions for incidental exercise, they’ll soon begin to pall, and your motivation will take a dip. The very best way to introduce traditional exercise into your life is to make your own movement list and to centre it around the interests you already have and the dozens of tasks you already do.
Let’s say, for example, that you enjoy completing a jig-saw. Instead of leaving it on the living room table and sitting down to do it, shift it to a position where you have to stand to work at it (the kitchen bench is ideal). If you have a cat or dog, instead of tipping its biscuits into its feeding dish in one bend, leave the biscuit container on the bench and place the biscuits into the feeding bowl one tablespoon at a time (that’s building a lot more bending into the task!). When you unload the clothes drier, do so one item at a time rather than grabbing an armload of laundry. Instead of taking the car to the supermarket once a week and loading up the boot, don a day pack and head on foot to the supermarket to purchase a few items at a time.
By centering incidental exercise around your own life, you’ll never run out of new ways to clock up the kilometres, quit the calories, and keep moving. And if motivation should ever wane, simply get creative – incidental exercise fans have been known to jive through the TV ads, and clean their windows to the sound track of Mamamia. Enjoy!