Fitness / Beginner Fitness

What is Incidental Exercise? And How to Add it into Your Day

Exercise is something we probably do a lot more outside of only scheduled workouts or fitness classes.

When most of us envision exercise, we think of going to the gym or fitness studio, taking a virtual workout class or heading outside for a walk with a close friend. In a nutshell, we view exercise as intentional—something that we carve out time for and set out to do within our daily schedule so that we can meet our desired health and wellness goals. But, the reality is, exercise is something we probably do a lot more outside of the realm of that schedule. In fact, exercise is often incidental.

What incidental exercise?  

Incidental exercises are the physical movements we make as part of our everyday life that, while not performed intentionally with the goal of exercising in mind, are, in fact, exercise activities. If you missed the train and are running to try to catch it or shoveling snow in your driveway, you’re performing what’s known as incidental exercise—just engaging in everyday life but in a way that helps enhance your physical state, explains Alicia Jones, National Coach of Canada (NCCP), Advanced Sport Nutrition-Certified Group Fitness Instructor and Personal Training Specialist.

“Many people don’t count these types of physical activities as exercise because they are focused on intentional or structured exercise,” she says. “So many times people are doing intentional exercise and a lot of incidental exercises throughout the day, such as walking, or running around doing errands and they can end up overtraining as they don’t realize how much activity they’re engaged in just going about their day.”

Adding Exercise into Your Daily Routine  

Having a schedule or a set regimen that we can follow helps us as a society advance forward and meet our personal and professional goals, so it only makes sense to view exercise in this same light. Also as part of our culture, we overemphasize convenience. “We don’t often think about doing the extra things to move a little bit more because we are really focused on making things convenient,” explains Bill Daniels, C.S.C.S., C.P.T., founder of Beyond Fitness. “When we think about exercise, we think that we need to spend a specific amount of time doing a specific kind of exercise in order to get the benefits, but we know now that this is not entirely true.”

In fact, you can get a full-body workout just by incorporating incidental exercises into your daily routine. “All of these accumulated bursts of incidental exercises throughout your day are great for building strength and improving your cardiovascular health and puts you in a better mood by releasing serotonin, the ‘happy hormone,’” Jones says. “Incidental exercise helps get you to your daily fitness goals in a shorter amount of time.”

Here, are some of best incidental exercises to add to your routine to get more of a workout out of your day.

Taking the stairs 

Chances are, you use stairs at least some point in your day. Even if you work from home and don’t leave the house, you probably have some stairs to climb. Avoid taking the elevator or any escalators and you’ll score yourself a cardio-boosting workout. “When you take the stairs, your body goes into a higher interval training for your heart, which helps to balance your blood sugar and targets age-related belly fat,” says Jones. “Taking stairs two at a time is a great workout to strengthen your legs, which are the biggest predictor of your quality of life.”

Playing or walking with your dog 

If you have a furry friend at home with you, be sure to take them out for walks, as this totally counts as exercise. “When you’re training your dog, you’re doing short bursts of cardio when you’re running to or from your dog,” says Jones. “Playing with a tug toy with your dog will help strengthen your arms and taking your dog on a walk is a great way to get some cardio in.”

Cleaning your house

House cleaning may be last on your list of things you’d like to be doing at any given time, but one benefit, aside from a sparkling clean house when all is said and done, is a full-body workout! “Scrubbing the countertop works your chest muscles and your arm muscles, as you’re pressing down into the ground while you’re enhancing strength in your upper body at the same time you’re toning your stomach and creating more strength,” says Jones. “Mopping, sweeping and vacuuming can help get you into a higher cardio zone while strengthening arm and back muscles.”

Carrying grocery bags 

Did you know that carrying grocery bags helps strengthen your arms, back and postural muscles? “If you’re carrying them and walking a distance to where you’ve parked your car a distance away from the store entrance, now you’ve added in a cardio workout while strengthening your arms,” says Jones.

Beginner Fitness Fitness Health


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