How to fit exercise into your daily life

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You don’t need the gym to stay active. Short bouts of intense physical activity worked into your daily routine can be just as effective

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Doing more of your everyday activities at a higher speed and intensity could be just as effective as structured fitness. These can include anything from carrying heavy groceries home to running up and down the stairs and even doing housework.

High-intensity everyday activity – no gym required

You’ve probably heard of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) where you work out hard and fast for a short time, say 30 seconds, then rest for another set period, such as another 30 seconds. This is repeated for any time between five to 20 minutes.

A variation of this is the new trend called High-Intensity Incidental Physical Activity or HIIPA and it’s all about doing your everyday activities in the same bursts of intensity throughout your day.

In a report published last year in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, scientists argued that many daily tasks could count as high-intensity physical activity if they’re done with enough intensity.

These activities can be incorporated into your everyday life – even if you’re mostly confined to your home because of lockdown or social distancing measures.

How to fit more short bouts of intense movement into your life

There’s no time commitment with HIIPA, all you need to do is increase the intensity that you put into the activities that you would normally be doing.

According to researchers behind the report, to turn an everyday activity into HIIPA you need to exert yourself to about a 15-20 capacity where 20 is the hardest you can possibly go. Then continue that activity for two to three minutes.

By completing seven to eight sessions of HIIPA daily, you could get 15-25 minutes of high-intensity physical activity each day. That adds up to 105-175 minutes of activity a week.

Here are some ideas for getting more activity into your day. Try each one for two to three minutes and aim for seven to eight short sessions a day:

  • Carrying heavy groceries home from the shops (make sure your load is balanced on both sides or carry them in a backpack and also bend your knees and keep your back straight as you pick them up)
  • Running up and down the stairs as fast as you can
  • Doing squats while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil
  • Vigorous housework
  • High-speed walking
  • High-intensity dancing at home (the children can join in too)
  • Gardening or mowing the lawn at a higher speed

According to the World Health Organisation, we should all be doing either 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes intense exercise each week.

That means fitting in seven to eight daily HIIPA sessions could cover your weekly exercise without setting foot in a gym.

Make sure to warm up before starting each activity, by doing the exercise gently at first and then stretching out your muscles to avoid injury (particularly if you do not exercise normally).

The health benefits of exercise

Doctors are so convinced of the health benefits of exercise that many medics now prescribe exercise for conditions as diverse as type 2 diabetes, mild depression and arthritis. Here are just some of the benefits:

General health

Research shows that regular exercise can lower your risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and some cancers. It can also improve self-esteem, mood, sleep and energy levels.

According to the NHS, people who exercise regularly have a 35% lower risk of having a heart attack or stroke, a 50% lower chance of developing type 2 diabetes or colon cancer, an 83% lower chance of developing arthritis and are 30% less likely to suffer with depression.


Exercise strengthens your immune system by releasing high levels of the chemical interleukin 7 (IL-7) into the bloodstream. This helps your body to produce new T cells. These are types of white blood cells essential to the functioning of your immune system.

Moderate exercise also helps to reduce inflammation in the body, the hidden cause of many serious health conditions.

Mental health

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by fear and anxiety caused by what’s happening right now, this is all the more reason to get moving. When you exercise, your brain releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins, which help you to feel less stressed and anxious both in the short and long term.

Other ways to be more active at home

You can get creative with adding more activity into your everyday life. Here are some suggestions:

  • Try standing at your desk instead of sitting – standing uses more muscular effort and over the course of the day will burn more energy.
  • Take an activity break every hour. This could be as simple as going into your garden (if you have one) and using a skipping rope for two to three minutes or doing 20 push ups or 50 lunges between work tasks. Over the course of an eight-hour work day it adds up.
  • Take walking calls. Every time you get a call in which you don’t need to take notes, walk while you talk – even if it’s just around the house – for the duration of the call.

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