By Marika Sboros
I’m a big fan of exercise – as we all should be. It makes, or should make, intuitive sense that exercise is good for overall health. Exercise builds endurance and keeps you supple and strong as you age
It also makes, or should make, sense that exercise is not the best weight loss tool. Despite what many MDs and dietitians still say.
They want you to believe that obesity the result of gluttony and sloth. That all you have to do to lose weight is eat less and move more. That’s just food and drug industry propaganda.
And like many of us, you might think you are too busy to exercise. You’ve got that wrong. It’s dead easy to fit regular, incidental exercise. Take a leaf out of 44th US president Barack Obama’s lifestyle book, for starters.
Here, Sydney University professor of physical activity and population health Emmanual Stamatakis gives you some tips.
Have you recently carried heavy shopping bags up a few flights of stairs? Or run the last 100 metres to the station to catch your train? If you have, you may have unknowingly been doing a style of exercise called high-intensity incidental physical activity.
Our paper, published today in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, shows this type of regular, incidental activity that gets you huffing and puffing is likely to produce health benefits, even if you do it in 30-second bursts, spread over the day.
In fact, incorporating more high intensity activity into our daily routines – whether that’s by vacuuming the carpet with vigour or walking uphill to buy your lunch – could be the key to helping all of us get some high quality exercise each day. And that includes people who are overweight and unfit.
What is high intensity exercise?
Until recently, most health authorities prescribed activity lasting for at least ten continuous minutes, although there was no credible scientific evidence behind this.
This recommendation was recently refuted by the 2018 US Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Report. The new guidelines state any movement matters for health, no matter how long it lasts.
This appreciation for short episodes of physical activity aligns with the core principles of high intensity interval training (HIIT). HIIT in a hugely popular regimen involving repeated short sessions, from six seconds to four minutes, with rests from 30 seconds to four minutes in-between.
Among a range of different regimens, we consistently see that any type of high intensity interval training, irrespective of the number of repetitions, boosts fitness rapidly and improves cardiovascular health and fitness.
That’s because when we regularly repeat even short bursts of strenuous exercise, we instruct our bodies to adapt (in other words, to get fitter) so we’re able to respond better to the physical demands of life (or the next time we exercise strenuously).
Achievable for all
The same principle is at play with incidental physical activities. Even brief sessions of 20 seconds of stair-climbing (60 steps) repeated three times a day on three days per week over six weeks can lead to measurable improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness. This type of fitness indicates how well the lungs, heart, and circulatory systems are working, and the higher it is the lower the risk for future heart disease is.
The main reasons people don’t do enough exercise tend to include the cost, lack of time, skills, and motivation.
Exercise regimens like high intensity interval training are safe and effective ways to boost fitness, but they’re often impractical. People with chronic conditions and most middle-aged and older people, for example, will likely require supervision by a fitness professional.
Aside from the practicalities, some people may find back-to-back bouts of very high exertion overwhelming and unpleasant.
Free ways to exercise
But there are plenty of free and accessible ways to incorporate incidental physical activity into our routines, including:
- Replacing short car trips with fast walking, or cycling if it’s safe.
- Walking up the stairs at a fast pace instead of using the lift.
- Leaving the car at the edge of the shopping centre car park and carrying the shopping for 100m.
- Doing three or four “walking sprints” during longer stretches of walking by stepping up your pace for 100-200 metres (until you feel your heart rate is increasing and you find yourself out of breath to the point that you find it hard to speak).
- Vigorous walking at a pace of about 130-140 steps per minute.
- Looking for opportunities to walk uphill.
- Taking your dog to an off-leash area and jogging for 30-90 seconds alongside the pup.
This type of incidental activity can make it easier to achieve the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity a day. It can also help boost fitness and make strenuous activity feel easier – even for those of us who are the least fit.