How to get fit with virtually zero time commitment and no buy-in

It can feel impossible to spend the time and money it takes to get healthy. Gym memberships can be costly, and that’s not even accounting for the minutes you lose to a workout.

But now, health experts are looking at fitness through a completely different lens after a major change to the U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines last year. Their new perspective makes it easier to engage in physical activity, with “virtually zero time commitment” and no additional strain to your pocketbooks.

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All you have to do is keep doing what you’re doing

Let me explain.

In 2018, The Department of Health and Human Services ditched a requirement in the Physical Activity Guidelines that said physical activity (PA) had to go on for at least 10 minutes in a row to count toward better health. Experts from across the world were seemingly enthused to see the change, as they claimed that the previous rule was not evidence-based.

“This opens new exciting opportunities to capitalise (sic) on sporadic, incidental in nature, PA to improve the population’s health,” academics from Australia, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Norway wrote in an editorial in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

In fact, we’ve known for a while that high-intensity interval training is a popular and effective means of exercise. But even those time-saving methods still tend to make demands on people that some of the country’s unhealthiest residents are unwilling to fulfill.

“Starting and sticking to an exercise programme is challenging for most who are at risk of developing lifestyle-related chronic disease: the most physically inactive, unfit, and overweight or obese middle-aged individuals, that is, the majority of the adult population,” the editorial’s authors wrote.

No pain, no gain

But what about the incidental physical activity such individuals do on a nearly daily basis? Climbing stairs, chasing kids, or even carrying groceries?

Those bouts of vigorous intensity physical activity count, too, according to the authors. And as everyone rethinks what good health looks like, it may be time to restructure our lives so that we incorporate “High Intensity Incidental Physical Activity” (HIIPA) into our daily routines.

“The time commitment for HIIPA is close to zero minutes per day, and people could save even more time if their HIIPA involves brief walking sprints, or taking the stairs instead of waiting for the lift,” Emmanuel Stamatakis, a professor at the University of Sydney and one of the editorial’s co-authors, said in a press release. “It’s just about making good decisions like parking the car at the edge of the carpark and carrying shopping for 50 or 100 meters.”

According to Stamatakis, those who partake in HIIPA through their everyday routines can also enjoy no costs for fitness and no need for equipment. In short, the HIIPA solution is one of the most efficient methods to promote wellness, especially among middle-aged people who could be healthier.

The editorial’s authors said public health organizations and clinical practice could use messaging such as “huff and puff regularly” instead of relying solely on bigger asks, such as moving more. But for those who already know about the benefits of incidental physical activity, there’s no need for a PSA. It’s time to start taking the stairs!

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