4 Easy Ways To Get More Exercise During The Day (Without Formal Workout)

Some days we wake up well rested and excited to face the day ahead. Others, we’d rather go back, hit snooze, and feign a cold to get out of work. Regardless of how much energy we have, part of maintaining our health is staying active. But the truth is, we don’t always have the capacity to run a 5K, take a group fitness class, or hit the elliptical.

To keep your body moving and your heart pumping, one of the best ways to live a more active lifestyle is to incorporate occasional exercise into your daily life. Casual exercise refers to short, sporadic bursts of physical activity that don’t require you to invest or schedule an hour out of your day, break a sweat or break into a fancy studio. It’s a small, but significant habit change that can pay off in the long run, helping you get the healthy exercise your body craves and fend off the harmful impacts of sitting all day.

So how do you make it happen? We chatted with certified personal trainers to explore casual exercise, its benefits, and how we can all make small adjustments to reap big rewards.

What is casual exercise?

Just as it sounds, casual exercise is a small bout of unstructured or unplanned physical activity that occurs throughout the day, explains Aimee Nicotera, MS, a certified personal trainer, instructor, and health coach. It could also be referred to as NEAT or non-exercise exercise thermogenesis. As an article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine puts it:

“Incidental [physical activity] it is any activity that is part of one’s daily life that is not performed for recreational or health purposes and does not require any discretionary sacrifice of time. For example, walking or cycling to get from place to place, climbing stairs, and active daily activities, such as carrying heavy groceries and cleaning the house.”

Both NEAT and occasional exercise are important and beneficial because they contribute to a person’s total daily calorie expenditure, albeit burned through movement outside of structured exercise, Nicotera adds.

Your baseline level of casual exercise is the physical activity you get organically throughout the day, and that’s different for everyone, explains Joyce Shulman, a certified personal trainer and co-founder and CEO of 99 Walks and Jetti Fitness. Often the occasional exercise happens organically and is something you’re already doing a lot without even realizing it.

A professional who spends most of his time sitting at his desk in front of his computer or attending meetings probably won’t get much occasional exercise throughout the day without intentionally incorporating it. But for someone like a professional dog walker, their occasional exercise includes all the walks taken during a workday, Shulman says. And if you’re a stay-at-home parent to a young child, your occasional exercise probably includes chasing your toddler or picking him up and down throughout the day.

Despite the fact that occasional exercise largely happens organically, our daily lives typically present opportunities to raise that level, says Shulman. The trick here is to look for those windows that present themselves in your life and seize them [if youre able to].

Is occasional exercise alone effective enough?

According to current exercise guidelines, adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. How you end up breaking this down doesn’t really matter, but staying consistently active does (it’s better to do a little something every day if possible, instead of cramming it all in over the weekend, for example). We need to get our heart rates up, move our bodies, and maybe even sweat, says Nicotera.

In theory, he says that if a person racks up just over 20 minutes of occasional exercise a day, they could meet this recommendation and it’s an effective way to keep moving. If someone is looking to get more activity, occasional exercise is a great way to add to other structured exercise activities, he says. If it’s the only activity a person does, it’s better than nothing, and depending on other personal habits, it may be enough to maintain good health.

Nicotera shares some examples of opportunities for occasional exercise in your normal daily routine:

  • Walk to lunch during the break.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator.
  • Getting up and walking around to visit a colleague instead of sending an email or making a call.
  • Parking furthest from the entrance of an establishment.
  • Playing outside with your kids or dogs.
  • Walk to a local restaurant or coffee shop.
  • Walking to the mailbox.
  • Doing garden work.
  • Shoveling snow.
  • Wash and clean your car by yourself.
  • Cleaning the house, including vacuuming, sweeping, etc.

Your best friend loves spin classes and your partner enjoys rock climbing and lifting heavy weights to keep fit. But if traditional fitness formats aren’t your jam, you might be wondering if piling on the occasional exercise throughout the day is enough movement to meet those physical activity needs above.

Sara Haley, certified personal trainer and pre- and postnatal exercise specialist, says casual exercise is usually of low to moderate intensity since it involves activity performed during daily activities or routines.

While it helps increase overall physical activity, it most likely won’t give you the same level of intensity required for cardiovascular fitness and strength gains or significant calorie burn, he adds.

Additionally, occasional exercise alone may not always be sufficient exercise for most adults, as strength training and/or resistance training are also so important. Most workouts allow you to target specific muscle groups and work towards specific fitness goals and allow for progressive overload, where you gradually increase the difficulty or intensity of your workouts over time, says Haley. “Occasional exercise focuses on neither.

How to get more exercise occasionally

While it’s still smart to exercise harder a few times during the week, you can add more activity to your daily life through the occasional exercise—there are many options. Most of them are simple enough to incorporate, and may even be habits you’ve tried to form in the past. Try these four to see a benefit:

Walk when you can.

Haley says the quickest and easiest way to add more occasional exercise into your life is to walk whenever possible. Pay attention to when windows of opportunity pop up, allowing you to use your two feet instead of wheels. Haley says examples include walking to a destination instead of starting the engine. Park further from the front door of a shop or restaurant so you have a mini commute. Join a walking meeting rather than sitting around a conference table for a 1:1 discussion. And, of course, take the stairs instead of the elevator if you’re only going up or down a few floors.

Shuffle into active outputs.

On weekends, when you’re spending quality time with your kids, partner, or group of friends, you can incorporate occasional exercise by choosing an active adventure instead of a sedentary one. Nicotera says this might mean taking an afternoon walk in nature instead of watching a movie. Or go on a scavenger hunt with the kids or scroll through your phone as they play on a playground. Shop in person, in town, instead of shopping online. Be a tourist in your city.

Play and dance with the music.

A great way to enhance your casual exercise is to put on music while you do household chores, like vacuuming, sweeping or dusting, says Haley. Upbeat jams encourage you to dance and have fun, raising your heart rate and increasing your activity level during an otherwise mundane activity.

Plant and maintain a garden.

Gardening is an amazing source of occasional exercise, says Shulman. Whether you have a huge backyard, a small front lawn, or a balcony the size of a city, creating a green oasis counts as occasional exercise. You will bend, stretch, lift, carry, pull and push, working harder than you realize to keep that garden going.

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