Make the most of incidental activity

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Incidental activity makes up a significant portion of the energy we expend in a day. While structured exercise such as your weekly gym or pilates class accounts for around 5% of energy expenditure, incidental activity accounts for up to 15%.

What is incidental activity?

Incidental activity is the unplanned movements or tasks we do throughout the day, typically at low intensity in comparison to exercise. Incidental activities can include housework such as vacuuming, grocery shopping, laundry and even cooking. Each of these smaller tasks can vary from around 50-200 calories per hour and can contribute to a significant energy deficit. To be precise the Australian Physical Activity guidelines state that we should aim to break up periods of prolonged seated postures every 20-30 minutes to reap the health benefits of being more incidentally active.

What are the diabetes-related health benefits of sitting less?

Making a conscious effort to sit less and move more can help reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes, coronary heart disease or dementia. Taking a stand can also help to reduce musculoskeletal pain and discomfort. Research in the European Heart Journal investigated how swapping two hours a day sitting, for two hours a day of  standing impacted blood lipids and glucose levels. The results showed a 2% reduction in fasting blood glucose readings, an 11% reduction in triglycerides and a 6% lower total cholesterol.

When we sit for long periods of time our blood can pool or stagnate in our legs which can lead to arterial dysfunction. Special cells lining the walls of our arteries detect the force of our blood and sends signals through the artery to maintain proper structure and function. Just three hours of sitting can result in reduced arterial function.

What can you do?

  • Try a standing desk
  • Exercise your legs for 45 minutes prior to sitting. This helps preserve artery function
  • ‘Dynamic sitting’ such as tapping your knee or bouncing your heel seems to decrease the risks associated with prolonged sitting
  • When you are gardening use a watering can rather than a hose, your body will thank you for the additional steps too
  • At the supermarket fill the trolley or shopping basket with the heaviest items first
  • Walk and talk on the phone rather than sitting or standing still.

Physical activity should not be done based on a threshold or in isolation.

It should be part of an integrated approach to enhancing health behaviours. While the Australian Physical Activity guidelines say that we should break up periods of sitting every 20-30 minutes, the more often we can move the better it will be for diabetes management, and ultimately our longer term health outcomes.

Sitting less and taking a stand is an important step towards living a healthier life, free of the complications of diabetes.


Hayden Kelly, AEP



Keywords: Exercise

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