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Incidental Exercise

What would you think if somebody walked up to you and said you could improve joint mobility, improve cardiovascular fitness and burn hundreds of extra calories each day without having to break a sweat? You’d more than likely think they were trying to sell you something, but it’s as simple as it sounds (and you don’t have to pay a cent!) It is called “Incidental Exercise”.

Incidental exercise is any exercise or physical activity that is part of your daily routine. This can include walking around the supermarket, doing household chores such as vacuuming, taking the stairs at work or even just getting up to change the channel on the television! The more you move your body on a day to day basis then the less likely you are to develop conditions related to a sedentary lifestyle.

Firstly let me clarify that incidental exercise should not make up the entirety of your physical activity each day. Planned activities such as walking, jogging, swimming or resistance training in the gym are all fundamental aspects of a healthy lifestyle and must be adhered to in order to achieve consistent results.

Our bodies use energy whenever we move regardless of how fast, slow, hard or gentle the movements are. This energy comes from the food we eat and the reserves of body fat we carry. When we exercise we burn this energy which is usually measured in calories or kilojoules. This energy is also used doing simple day to day activities like I mentioned earlier.

Although this energy expenditure is at a much lower rate than that of a planned bout of exercise working at your target intensity, if you are very active throughout the day this can really add up to something substantial. Let me use this recent example that happened to me.

My aunt recently returned home from a trip around Europe. Before she left she was always picking my brain about how she can lose a few kilos and get fitter for her trip and was worried that her recent good results would be undone by all the wonderful food she would inevitably consume abroad. I suggested she try to maintain some sort of exercise routine and gave her a small program to do in her room once a day.

Upon returning, at a family gathering, she pulled me aside and told me how she was disappointed because she didn’t end up doing the program once and ate very poorly. But when she measured herself for the first time since arriving home she had found that she had actually lost weight.

Naturally I was skeptical and questioned her a bit further, it turns out she managed to maintain most of her lean muscle mass and legitimately lost body fat. Now at this point I want to assure everyone reading this that taking a trip to Europe is not the reason why she lost that weight! So please don’t go booking any flights just yet! Let me explain what happened.

After talking with her I found that each and every day she was out sightseeing from dawn till well into the night. Walking around, through towns and villages, on and off trains and buses, through gardens and the grounds of castles, etc. My aunt and uncle basically walked everywhere. The amount of incidental exercise she was doing was immense, much higher than usual.

Her usual week comprised of sitting behind a desk for 6-8 hours a day then sitting in her car on the way home then doing 30 mins of exercise (on most days) then sitting on her couch. We compare that to 8-10 even 12 hours of walking around each day whilst on holidays and the extra energy expenditure is huge!

So what’s the point of that little story? Most people don’t get the chance to walk around sightseeing for 8 hours a day, we have work, kids, family commitments and other things that take priority right? Yes that is true but it goes to show how crucial getting up and moving around can be to weight loss. Even if it seems negligible it all adds up in the long run. Even an extra 100-200 calories each day can be the difference between stagnating and losing weight.


  • Get out there and walk more
  • Ride your bike with the kids of an afternoon
  • Go out and do the gardening
  • Get up from the desk every now and again and walk to hand deliver a document to the guy down the hall instead of sending it to his email account
  • Park in the first car spot you see and walk instead of doing 5 laps of the car park to try and find the closest one to the elevator
  • In fact skip the lifts all together and take the 3 flights of stairs instead!
  • Lifts things
  • Carry things
  • Get off the train or bus 1 stop early and walk the rest of the way to work
  • Spend your free time moving not sitting!

These days our entire lives are based around making things convenient, so much so that we have lost the habit of doing things the hard way, or the more difficult way. We spend so much time just sitting down and having everything come to us rather than being mobile and doing things for ourselves just because it takes a bit of effort. Believe me when I say that all these small things add up in the long run. They may be cliché’s but they are clichés for a reason, it’s because they work. They are not difficult to implement into your routine but the benefits they provide to your health will last you a lifetime.

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