The ‘gold standard’ level of activity that health experts recommend we need to stay fit and healthy is 150 minutes a week, whether that’s a brisk 30-minute walk five days a week, two long cycles rides of 75 minutes each or a quick 20(ish)-minute burst of HIIT every day. No matter how you like to work up a sweat, it’s well proven that regular exercise helps us live longer, healthier lives.
But what if something as simple as painting the spare room, washing the windows or weeding the vegetable patch counted towards this magic number? All involve physical exertion, after all, and require that we move in a way that fitness experts refer to as ‘functional’ – that is, putting our bodies through the range of movements that keep us strong, flexible and mobile.
“Many of us overlook the everyday opportunities to use our bodies, such as carrying the shopping, cleaning the car or digging in the garden,” says Fran Hallam, research into practice officer at the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. “Everyday activities are a great way of staying active in the comfort of our own home and there’s no costly gym membership or equipment needed. These simple activities can get us moving more and sitting less.”
We are designed to move
Finding ways to maintain or build strength and fitness activities into our daily routine isn’t just important, it’s essential. Fran explains: “At present, too few people are doing as much exercise as they should each week,” she says. “This is worrying because our bodies are designed to move, and movement is vital for every aspect of our health. Movement keeps our muscles strong and helps us maintain a healthy weight, which protects our joints. Keeping active can help manage joint stiffness, pain and fatigue levels which affects our mood and wellbeing. Inactivity is harmful to both our physical and mental health.”
All activity counts
The trouble is, we often perceive ‘exercise’ as pounding the pavements or sweating it out in a gym, which puts us off before we even start. “But in fact, any time we’re putting muscles under stress (in a good, non-OTT way); breaking a sweat, and just generally moving rather than sitting, we’re exercising effectively,” says fitness expert Laura Williams. “Simply walking everywhere burns plenty of calories, boosts bone density and, when you’re walking uphill you’re giving hamstrings and glutes (thighs and bum) a mini-workout too. But other everyday activities count too - when you’re gardening, if you’re crouching close to the floor with a nice straight back, that’s also known as an isometric squat. All the stretching, bending and reaching you do when you’re decorating counts, and lugging paint pots around will work your heart and all the major muscle groups. If you’re working in the garden, try pushing a full wheelbarrow for a great cardio boost. And if you want to work your back, shoulders and arms, turning compost is the job for you.”
Building exercise into your day
When you look at it that way, building ‘incidental exercise’ into your daily routine becomes easy. “It’s just a matter of having a bit of exercise-savvy,” says Laura. “When you know that taking the escalator or stairs two at a time works your bottom and legs, for instance, or that carrying two shopping baskets instead of wheeling a trolley in the supermarket is a great bicep workout, you’ll see opportunities to move your body more everywhere.
Indeed, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy has created an entire campaign around this very ethos. “It’s called Love Activity; Hate Exercise and it explores common barriers to exercise and helps people to overcome them in order to find activities they love,” says Fran Hallam. “If you find an activity you enjoy, you’re more likely to stick at it. Set goals to keep yourself motivated, involve family and friends for support, start slowly and gradually increase your levels of activity. Small amounts often add up to a big difference over time to keep you stronger and fitter. It’s about building up your activity levels gradually, exercising at a level that’s right for you and then gradually building on that. It’s never too late to get active – no matter what that looks like.”