I think I first heard the term ‘incidental exercise’ about 20 years ago when I was at University studying exercise physiology. The term had obviously arisen from a need to encourage people to move more regularly due to our typical lives becoming far too sedentary.
To me, an interesting point to consider is that prior to the coining of this term, our language had no need for such a reference. Incidental exercise was built into the simple process of living life. Which means that the arrival of this phrase corresponded with a significant change in movement habits, specifically that we stopped moving regularly.
Before we had escalators to carry us up stairs, before online shopping to deliver us our goods, and before email and instant messaging enabled us to communicate more efficiently with people anywhere that had service, including in the very next room… Before these ‘conveniences’, we had to use our bodies to fulfill these tasks.
A realization that came to me some time ago was this:
"The more convenient our lives become, the less healthy we become."
Consider the invention of the washing machine, the blender, the chainsaw, tractor, sewing machine and the stove. Without these devices the physical labor required for any one of these tasks would have been a significant effort. Have you ever tried washing your clothes on river stones with your hands? Holy moly! My guns got more of an intense workout than most gym sessions I have done. How about cutting wood with a handsaw, or grinding grains with a mortar and pestle? Let alone tilling a field with a hand held hoe.
The convenience of these modern additions to our lives is undeniable. Who wants to go about collecting wood and lighting a fire through a friction method to be able to cook the dough you just ground and kneaded by hand, when instead we can use a gas fired modern oven to bake the cake that came in a package from the store?
The benefits of these conveniences are that they have freed up so much time for us to get on with living. However, some of these choices of ‘living’ that we’re making are killing us. Instead of supplementing the lack of movement through daily tasks, we have chosen to become more sedentary. Sitting in front of a television, computer screen or steering wheel has made us very stationary, seated beings. According to Dr James Levine, ‘sitting is the new smoking’ and our sedentary lives are killing us in greater numbers than smoking does, or HIV for that matter. It makes us more prone to chronic illnesses like cancer, heart disease and diabetes. In fact, worldwide, it is estimated that a sedentary lifestyle is responsible for 6% of coronary heart disease cases, 7% of type 2 diabetes, 10% of breast cancer and 10% of colon cancer cases. Convenience sure did free up a lot of time for us to go about living! (tongue in cheek)
A sure fire remedy for this scourge of convenience is to simply bring back some inconvenience… you know, doing stuff with your body. Incidental exercise may well be the amazing remedy to many of our life’s woes. That choice to walk to the store rather than drive, or the opportunity to take the stairs rather than the lift may, in the accumulated experience over time be the mysterious magic bullet you have been looking for.
Its not about exercise, it’s about movement!
The quick fix of the hour-long personal training session once a week, or the high intensity interval workout may in fact hurt you more than help you. Trying to cram in a weeks worth of movement into a single session or perhaps two, will often place your underused bodysuit in a position of high stress with high risk of injury. Your hormonal system will also catch a beating as it will be well underconditioned to accommodate this level of physical stress.
Movement needs to be seen as a medicine that is given at regular intervals at the correct dose and needs to be the correct type for each individual.
True change comes when we truly change ourselves.
When we embrace the inconvenience of performing tasks that require physical effort, and can actually find joy in the process, then I believe we will have unlocked an incredible advantage over those racing to the closest space in the supermarket parking lot. We will have shaken off the mad lust for the latest gadget that can free us of the need to move our body and instead started looking for opportunities to move! A return to movement for the pure sake of it evokes a strange familiarity with the idea of childlike exuberance. It smacks of playful curiosity, and youthful expression.
· When did you last move simply because it was a pleasure to?
· Is the only exercise you do because you feel you have to?
· Has exercise become another job that you feel compelled to do in order to feel like a viable human?
Its time we changed our internal framework around the idea of exercise;
· What if we changed the name of exercise to its rightful origins of ‘movement’?
· What if movement was a fundamentally integrated process of living?
· What if the truth is that Movement is Life?
I believe so.
And so it is… for me :)