Non-Exercise Physical Activity

When referring to energy expenditure through physical activity, we typically think of planned exercise and sports. Going to the gym, a trail run, Sunday morning bike ride, touch rugby and indoor netball are just some of the examples of intentional physical activity. Planned exercise is what we know and have been told to do to get fit, stay health and manage bodyweight. But little attention is given to its partner in movement, non-exercise physical activity (NEPA).

NEPA is activities of daily living such as walking, standing up, running after a toddler, and cooking. In general, this is physical activity that happens spontaneously and without much thought.

While the benefits of intentional exercise for bodyweight management, and physical and mental health, are well reported on, the benefits of NEPA are often overlooked. Especially amongst those already engaged in structured exercise. Research has shown that being physically active around the house is associated with cardiovascular health and longevity, regardless of the inclusion of planned exercise. NEPA also encourages the body to use fat as a source of energy and potentially accounts for a large portion of daily energy expenditure.

So basic activities of living—what are bodies are built for—helps to keep body fat down and sustains health. Add that to the benefits of structured exercise and smart nutrition and we have a winning formula! Here are some simple ways to do more NEPA:

    The greatest attack on your health and fitness comes from sitting. Increase the amount of time standing at work; have meetings standing, set up a standing desk, after every 30 minutes of sitting stand for five.
    Opt for stairs instead of elevators and escalators. Park your vehicle further away from the destination. Where possible, walk to work and the supermarket. Spend time walking before and after your workouts. Walking is arguably the easiest way of increasing your levels of physical activity. Get a step tracker and get stepping!
    Do the dishes, mow the lawn, wash the vehicle. Do it for your neighbours!

Both structured exercise and NEPA are essential to health and fitness. But we now need to appreciate that spontaneous physical activity should become as carefully programmed structured exercise.

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