Break it down
Current UK guidelines recommend adults clock up at least 150 minutes of moderate to brisk exercise (or 75 mins of intense activity) every week, achieved in chunks of at least 10 minutes. But new US guidelines say even shorter bouts are beneficial and, according to a proposal from the UK chief medical officer (CMO), similar advice is to be rolled out here this year. It means you can cut that exercise pie any way you like, even just a minute or two at a time. As little as five to 10 minutes of high-intensity incidental activity will make a significant dent.
Paint that fence
â€œIncidental physical activity that is part of our daily living is by far the most promising option for turning the physical inactivity epidemic tide,â€ says Prof Emmanuel Stamatakis of the University of Sydney. Even domestic tasks such as housework and handwashing the car can count towards to your daily activity. But standing is not enough. â€œOur bodies need a challenge, even if this challenge is a very brief one,â€ says Stamatakis.
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Do a bit more
Dr Charlie Foster, from the University of Bristol, and chair of the CMOâ€™s expert committee, says the key is to simply do a little bit more of what you already manage, such as extending your stroll to the shops or walking up escalators at a train station. â€œI would look at your typical day and weekend: where are you already doing something in an active way â€“ could you do that for longer? We know, behaviourally, that makes more sense for people rather than starting something new.â€
Donâ€™t forget strength and balance
Current UK guidelines recommend adults do strength and balance exercises twice a week, but few of us meet them. â€œWeâ€™ve coined it â€˜the forgotten guidelineâ€™,â€ says Foster, adding that it is just as (if not more) important for older adults. Carrying heavy shopping bags an extra few hundred metres to a car parked further away, climbing stairs or even balancing on one leg are all options; the latest draft guidance from the CMO also suggests digging in the garden or lifting and carrying a child.
Make use of work time
Being sedentary for extended periods of time has been linked to an increased risk of a number of health problems, including diabetes and heart disease, as well as early death. But a recent study found reducing the risk isnâ€™t only about breaking up bouts of being still â€“ it is important to reduce your overall sedentary time. Pacing while on the phone, going over to your colleagues, rather than emailing, and scheduling West Wing-style walk-and-talks, could all get the ball rolling.