Exercise in disguise

By sneaking mini-moves into your daily routine, you can be moving without even realising.
Published 28 October 2015

Sneaky ways to be active without knowing it

Let’s face it, even if we’ve got the time, the last thing most of us feel like doing after a busy day is a full on workout. But the good news is, getting fit doesn’t have to mean spending hours at the gym. In fact, reaching your weekly goal or your bigger fitness goals, whether that’s getting stronger or losing weight, can be as simple as slipping little tricks into your normal routine.

Experts refer to this as incidental activity – the unplanned, away-from-the-gym activities of daily life that can make a big contribution to your overall health and fitness. "A person can expend kilojoules either by going to the gym, or through everyday activities," says Dr James Levine, an endocrinologist and researcher at the Mayo Clinic in the US. "Our studies show that the energy people use doing their everyday activities, are far more important than we previously thought."

Here are a few other ways to squeeze more incidental activity into your day.

At home

Find your groove

Turn on some music while you do the housework. Research by Dr Costas Karageorghis, a sports psychologist at Brunel University in the UK, suggests that the right music can increase a person’s exercise endurance by 15 per cent. He found that people who ran while listening to motivational music, making sure their movements matched the music’s rhythm, could run for significantly longer than those who ran in silence – and they enjoyed it much more, too. The message? Put on your favourite tunes and go with the beat.

Strengthen your legs

Get moving while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil. From a standing position, lunge forward with one leg, lowering your back knee towards the floor and dropping your body. Make sure your front knee does not extend beyond your toes. Raise, and repeat with the other leg. Build up to 15 repetitions.

Strengthen your calves

Don’t let time spent brushing your teeth go to waste: do some heel raises. Place your feet hip-width apart, look ahead and engage your core. Raise your heels off the ground until you’re on the balls of your feet. Hold for a second, then lower your heels to the ground. Continue until you’ve finished cleaning your teeth – which should be about three minutes.

Strengthen your arms

Work out with your benchtop: stand at arm’s length from your kitchen bench with your hands shoulder-width apart on the edge. Bend your elbows so your chest moves closer to the worktop, then extend your arms and move away. Think of it as a standing push-up, making sure you keep your body straight from head to heels. Do up to three sets of 15. Alternatively, why not try a spot of shadow boxing? Unlike traditional weight training, shadow boxing builds core strength, with the added benefit of improving balance, coordination and agility, plus endurance, flexibility and, of course, stronger arms.

Work your glutes

Help strengthen the muscles in your bottom – also known as your glutes or gluteal muscles – while you’re on the phone. With a cordless phone or mobile, you can pace about, do some squats or walk up and down the stairs while you’re chatting.


Play outside

Play in the park with a 30-minute game of Frisbee. Delight your toddler with hard, constant pushes on the swings to work your arms or kick a soccer ball around with friends or family.

Shape up in the garden

Your garden is already an aerobics course, but to get even more out of it, do wide-leg squats when weeding instead of bending from the waist, which can cause back pain. Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart and point your toes out. Keeping your upper body stretched upwards, lower yourself to a 90-degree angle at the knees, then come back up to the starting position.

Workout while you wait

Whether you’re waiting in the doctor’s office or just queuing for a coffee or the bus, use the time to work those gluteal muscles. Just squeeze and release the muscles in your bottom for one minute, then draw your belly button towards your spine to work the deep abdominal muscles as well.

Shop ‘til you drop

Shop locally instead of driving to the supermarket. Walk briskly to the shops and give your arms some strength training by carrying your shopping home – just make sure you don’t overload yourself, and balance yourself on each side.

Increase your walking pace

A slow stroll is pleasant, but try walking at a constant, brisk pace until you’re slightly breathless. Next time you’re out walking, increase your pace and take in some hills to make it more challenging.

Engage your core in the car

When you’re in your car, imagine you’re putting on a tight pair of jeans, suck in your tummy and hold the contraction. Then try to sing along with a song on the radio for about three minutes.

At work

Walk further to your car

Park as far away from the office as possible, and walk the rest of the way. You’ll expend more energy and save petrol. If you use public transport, get off a stop or two earlier.

Walk and talk

Schedule ‘walk and talk’ meetings instead of sit-down boardroom meetings, where appropriate. Arrange to walk with colleagues at lunchtime – and remember, walking around the shops counts!

Take the stairs

Using the lift saves time, but it won’t improve your fitness. If you use them all the time, break the habit slowly. If you work on the 10th floor of an office block, take the lift to the ninth and walk up the last flight of stairs. Then add more floors – you might get puffed at first, but it’ll get easier the more you do it.

De-feng shui your office

Make sure your rubbish bin, filing cabinet and photocopier are as far from your desk as possible, and instead of going to pick up all your printouts at once, collect them every time you hit ‘print’. Stand to take phone calls when you can or use a bathroom that’s on another floor (and take the stairs to get there!).

Sip on water

Have a glass of water on your desk at all times. That provides two opportunities to get moving: one to fill and refill the glass to keep your water intake up, the other to go to the loo!