Published On: Sat, Dec 15th, 2012

For Optimal Heart Health…Just keep on moving!

For Optimal Heart Health…Just keep on moving!

by Kristie Leong, MD

Let’s face it. Making that trek to the gym every day to work out is challenging. But there’s good news if you don’t have time to put on your exercise shoes and fight the traffic to use the elliptical machine or treadmill. The “incidental” exercise you do throughout the day counts when it comes to health. 

Incidental exercises are activities you engage in when you’re not doing a structured workout.   They include things like taking out the garbage, washing the car, climbing  stairs instead of taking the elevator, and carrying stacks of boxes to the car.  These are all things most people don’t do in order to get a workout, but do out of necessity. The good news;  all of these count when it comes to the health of your heart. 

The Health Benefits of Unstructured Exercise

Researchers at Queen’s University in Canada did a study looking at the effects of incidental exercise on heart health. The volunteers in this study didn’t do any type of structured exercise, but did activities most people wouldn’t consider to be “real” exercise.  Researchers were able to monitor the quantities of unstructured exercise they did throughout the day by giving them an accelerometer to wear around their waist. What did they find?  The more minutes of unstructured exercise the volunteers accumulated throughout the day, the better their cardiovascular fitness was.  This finding comes on the back of research showing that people who sit for prolonged periods of time have higher mortality rates regardless of whether they do a formal workout or not.  Sitting for long periods of time puts your health at risk even if you’re a regular at the gym. 

Why might this be? Prolonged sitting causes a host of physiological changes that increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and premature mortality. That’s why incidental exercise is just as important as exercise you do for fitness purposes. It’s important to keep moving throughout the day to stay healthy. 

How to Get More Incidental Exercise

Strap on a pedometer to keep track of how much you walk during the day. Ideally, you should log at least 5 miles a day while wearing your pedometer, but more is better. The daily feedback you get by wearing a pedometer will challenge and motivate you to spend more time walking around. Challenge yourself by trying to beat yesterday’s mileage. 

Find more reasons to walk instead of drive. Run errands on foot when you can, and when you drive, park as far away as possible. Make shopping and running errands more challenging by strapping a backpack on as you move from store to store. Make the dog happy by taking your four-legged pal for a brisk walk first thing in the morning and when you get home from work. Every step counts when it comes to heart health. 

Be more active at home. Don’t pay someone else to do activities around the house that you can do yourself. Washing the car, raking leaves, mowing the lawn, painting the house and gardening are all forms of incidental exercise that improve heart health.  Do them all with enthusiasm! 

Now, what if you sit all day in an office? Set a timer to go off every 30 minutes to remind yourself to take a brisk walk around the building. Walk up and down the stairs a few times. At the very least, get up and stretch.  Don’t keep your body or your butt in one place longer than you have to. 

References
Health News Daily. “Attention Exercise Haters: Everyday Activities Improve Fitness” 
Am. J. Epidemiol. (2010) 172 (4): 419-429.
References:
 Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009 May;41(5):998-1005.

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