Habits of Fit People: Add Activity—Not Just Exercise—to Your Days

By , SparkPeople Blogger
You want to be a fit person, right? That's why I'm sharing my own habits for keeping fit and staying healthy in the ongoing Habits of Fit People series.

Here's one that works for me: Adding more activity to my days. I'm not talking about exercise or planned workouts, either. You might not think about it often, but there's a lot more to a fit lifestyle than the time you spend in the gym. So why does something like this matter?

You may think that since you work out regularly, you don't need to worry about doing additional active things each day. You hit the gym before work in the morning, so when your spouse brings up the idea of an evening walk with the family after dinner, you think, "I better not overdo it after today's tough workout." Or when you're rushing through your weekend errands, you park in the closest spot to the door, brushing off the usual advice to park further away because you "already worked out today."

Sounds a little silly, right? Unfortunately, I think a lot of us fall into the trap of thinking we don't need to be "active" because we already "exercise." But when experts and fitness professionals talk about the benefits of living an "active lifestyle," they're talking about one that includes planned workouts AND additional daily activity that gets you on your feet. If you think about it, you only spend a few hours in the gym each week. Even if you're there 6 days a week, for an hour at a time, there are still over 100 waking hours in your week that you're NOT exercising. And for those of us with desk jobs, at least 40 of those are spent sitting. Several more hours involve driving (sitting), watching TV (sitting), playing on the computer (sitting) and other passive activities like letting the dishwasher wash your dishes for you.

Years ago, there was no such thing as obesity or the health problems that come along with it. People were on their feet all day long—simply moving because they had to in order to survive. We didn't drive anywhere or sit at computers all day. We farmed, weeded, built, tended, carried, walked, harvested, hauled, cooked, cleaned—everything. On top of that, we didn't have remote controls (or TVs for that matter), dishwashers, washing machines, or automatic lawnmowers. And we think modern life is hard! Just think of the calorie burn and the muscle-building potential of all that activity each day!

This week, after teaching a Pilates class during lunch (my planned workout for the day), I also biked to and from the library. On Sunday, after an hour-long Spinning class that always kicks my butt, I also opted to walk for an hour after dinner. At the grocery, I skip the cart and haul my load of groceries in a basket. On weekends, I go most of the day without even sitting down. I visit the farmers market or pick-your-own farm, wash dishes by hand, cook lots of food for the week ahead, hang-dry my laundry on the line outside, clean the house and mow the lawn—on top of the hour or so I spend in the gym.

These activities aren't exactly challenging workouts—but they burn far more calories than a sedentary lifestyle does. All of it adds up to what experts call an active lifestyle—one that includes planned workouts (to build strength, flexibility and endurance, all of which enhance your health and your life), but also light activities—some of which are work, like gardening, and others of which are more enjoyable, like dancing or a game of bowling.

Here are a few ways you can bring more "activity" into your fit lifestyle, no matter how much time you have on your hands:
  • For a dinner out, choose a place within walking distance of your house (up to 2 miles away) and walk to and from the restaurant.
  • At work, opt for the restroom furthest away from your workstation. (With all that water you're drinking, those steps will surely add up!)
  • Take the stairs any chance you get: at work, the mall and even in your home.
  • Shun some labor-saving devices like remotes and the dishwasher a few nights a week.
  • When watching TV, try a few simple exercises like the plank, pushups, squats or lunges. I often break out a quick set of pushups or abs exercises in my own living room.
  • Play with your kids (or your pet). Don't be an onlooker! Get involved. I only have a cat, but she loves a game where I chase her around the house--it's also intense enough to get my heart rate up!
  • For a fun night out with friends or family members, choose an active pursuit: bowling, ping-pong and miniature golf will keep you on your toes and off your tush!
  • Sit on an exercise ball at your computer to help strengthen your core and posture muscles.
  • Wear a pedometer. It'll encourage you to walk more often and you'll be surprised at the number of creative ways you'll find to get on your feet!

Remember, there's more to fitness than just working out. You'll feel stronger, more energetic and fitter when you incorporate little bursts of activity into your days on top of working out. Plus you'll burn more calories, which can help you manage your weight!

Are you guilty of letting exercise replace the other "activities" in your life? What small ways do (or could) you add a little more activity to your days?

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so true Report
PATRICIA-CR 7/15/2018
So very true! Report
DJ4HEALTH 4/1/2018
Thanks for the info Report
I take the stairs instead of the elevator when possible and I park as far out in the parking lot as I can get when going to a store....when I'm by myself.
Sometimes others don't see the virtue of walking as far as you can to get into the door of Walmart! LOL I make extra trips to put laundry away and I like to turn housecleaning into an aerobic workout by moving as fast as I can go! Dusting, sweeping, mopping, vacuuming...woohoo! There are lots of ways to add extra activity to each day. :) Report
Someone said something like "I noticed the fit people take the stairs and not the elevator." The little extra things absolutely add up. I make sure to get up and move every hour. Report
Surprising how little things add up. Report
I just wish I had the energy to exercise after work. I don't think adding activity is a problem for me since my job is active (no sitting, lots of lifting/pulling/twisting & bending), and I do most of the chores around the house. But on the weekends it is difficult because I live too far to walk places (6 miles to get to the grocery store or work in the nearest town, 30+ minute drive to the nearest city). At least I do try to park further out when I run errands. I have a fitbit, and while I don't always hit my step goal, it changed to include "moderately active" calories as exercise in addition to "active" minutes and now I burn 1000-1500 exercise calories on days I work, 2500-3000 total calories. Report
Gotta agree with Unsparky- I had an aunt and an uncle that farmed and they were both huge (I can recall that even in the early '70's and late 60's as a VERY young SKINNY lad) - I know my uncle was also an alcoholic which did NOT help. I am not sure if its partly diet / poorer nutrition or what it is - in my personal opinion I think that there's more to it once you scratch the surface - not that we could ALL stand to be MORE active. I am 100% behind you on that it would be a good start. Report
I walk to and from work, as well as the gym and/or grocery store, every day (about 2 miles each way). Our bodies were made to move! Report
My comment is on the definition of a "workout." I'm 82 and I consider walking at 3.1 to 3.7 mph for 45 minutes on the treadmill a workout. Why doesn't my tracker think I am working out? Report
I have to comment on this because this sort of thing is just plain wrong.

"Years ago, there was no such thing as obesity or the health problems that come along with it. People were on their feet all day long—simply moving because they had to in order to survive. We didn't drive anywhere or sit at computers all day. We farmed, weeded, built, tended, carried, walked, harvested, hauled, cooked, cleaned—everything. On top of that, we didn't have remote controls (or TVs for that matter), dishwashers, washing machines, or automatic lawnmowers. And we think modern life is hard! Just think of the calorie burn and the muscle-building potential of all that activity each day! "

Sorry Nichole, I've looked at plenty of photos from the 1800s and early 1900s and there were plenty of obese farmers and farmer's wives in those photos. I live near some Amish colonies here in Illinois, and guess what, I've seen plenty of overweight and what would be considered obese Amish - especially among the women, and the Amish live the hard working life style you describe in this quote.

Obesity has never been just for the rich and idle and it isn't just because of the lifestyle of the latter 20th century or early 21st. Are there more overweight/obese people now? Yes. And yes, it's because being active is no longer built into our daily life as it used to be. Now, we have to figure out how to incorporate it into our otherwise filled up lives. Also, the weights that are considered overweight/obese have been lowered. The ideal weights have been lowered as well. So now there are more overweight/obese people by default. In the 1940s and 50s a healthy, well built woman wore a size 12 - 14. Now, what is considered a healthy and well built woman wears a 4 - 6 . . . or lower.

It's just like 120/80 is no longer the normal blood pressure reading. Now, that is considered "pre-hypertensive."

More of us are now overweight, hypertensive and diabetic because all of the numbers that stood for generations as "normal" have been lowered in the last 15 to 20 years or so.

But there have always been overweight/obese people, especially women, since it is an established fact that women's bodies are predisposed to carrying extra weight to help with bearing, nursing and caring for children.

And no, I'm not excusing my own obesity. I would have been in the obese range for my height and build even back in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. But it is a fact that the diagnostic numbers/ranges for "normal" and healthy have been lowered.

Please, try not to make such false statements as, "Years ago, there was no such thing as obesity or the health problems that come along with it."

There have always been fat people and there have always been thin people, even within groups with the same lifestyles and diets. Report
i agree with Empierce.
my Spark tracker doesn't monitor much of my exercise .. not very impressed at all Report
I never buy high heels anymore. My fiancé walks with me 3 miles to and from a restaurant every week. Report
I have yet to have my activity monitor record workouts...despite the fact that I have hour long training sessions two times a week. I am not sure that it would record a workout even if I would doing sustained cardio for 10 minutes, which I cannot because of knee issues. I am frankly quite disappointed with that aspect of the monitor. Report
im definitely going to have to try some of these out - didnt even think about carrying a grocery basket being decent arm work, and i love sitting on my exercise ball, so i think ill use it to replace my computer chair. Report
I got a fitbit one for Christmas and have been using it faithfully, my daily results have been less than what I would like (am aiming for a goal of 10,000 steps or more a day). This blog has given me some ideas and things to think about in order to add those extra steps in achieving my goal. We certainly have many comforts in life that create inactivity, time to become old fashion and get moving again! Report
I just got a desk job and I have definitely found ways to stay active! I take the stairs, park in the furthest spot, go to the farthest restroom, and use an exercise ball at my desk when it is not in stand-up mode! Love the extra tips for around the house. Report
This article is true, anytime I spring clean my house I lose about ten pounds. I am in the midst of spring cleaning now and I am hoping for me. Report
Hello Nicole! The idea of using an exercise ball at the table is really cool. Report
I would get more out of the article if you would quit distracting me with talk of butts. You're trying too hard to be provocative. I really don't care what "kicks your butt." And I don't even have a couch, so I can't get my "tush" off it. But I can tell you that I don't want you to even be talking about my butt at all! You need to write more grounded articles, this is way too casual. And you presume a lot! Like that I like hearing about butts, and I don't. Report
Like some of you I too live in the country so walking to a store or restaurant is not an option at this time. However, I can try the exercise ball while on the PC! And... when I do go shopping I park way out so I can walk more. Report
The idea of walking to the restaurant is great! Never thought to do that. We have a couple within a 2 mile radius. My husband might whine a bit, but a good idea! Report
This is excellent advice -- Honestly, I this is something I now realize I have to pay more attention to. Thanks! Report
When I was a kid, my grandmother had a wringer washer. Not exactly beating the clothes on the rocks, but just fishing stuff through that thing & hauling wet stuff out was work. I thought it was fun. I must've been out of my mind, but it definitely burned more calories than pushing a button on my Maytag! I wouldn't go back though! Report
if i go to regular tv with my wee fit it will stop what button do you push to keep it timeing when you go to watch tv as you walk . ?? Report
One thing I do is instead of driving to work I ride my bike. It is a fantastic way to start the day Report
nice article. I agree with it. I try to live an active life style. When I need to go to town to do my banking business and pay bills it would be so easy to get ride there (don't drive am a bad driver). But instead I walk to town to do that. And by the time I get it all done I have spent an hour walking. It's so good for me. When I clean house I put some up beat rock music on and it gets me moving at a faster pace. Also when I need to go to the store for 2 items I just don't get those 2 I walk around the store and look at things for an hour or so and then I check out. it's another way of moving. Report
It is this reason precisely why I want to live in a city. (I'm applying for PhD programs now so there is a good chance I will get to move to one in a year - cross your fingers for New Haven, CT!) I am miles away from everything, including grocery stores, parks, pubs - you name it, I have to get into a car to arrive there. If I could afford a bike that may alleviate some problems, but I don't see myself strapping a week's worth of groceries on and taking the twisty, poorly lit country highway from the Stop & Shop. I hope I get to move to a city next year and enjoy Saturdays of farmer's markets and gyms such as this author writes about. Report
I "pace" my yard looking for weeds to pull. Up and down like mowing the lawn, then sometimes for good measure, I go side to side as well.

On vacation, my sons and I often walk the halls in the hotel and go up and down stairs also. I have knee pain, so sometimes I can't go up more than one floor at a time. So we go up one, then down 2, then up one, then go the length of the hall, then up one at the other end, back down the hall, then up or down the stairs again. While we are walking, we look for the guest laundry, fitness room, and ice & vending machines or check out the breakfast room, lobby and pool. Just keep moving, not all night, but for a while, and it breaks up the evening so we are not sitting in the room all the time. Report
For those that have a Wii Fit. There is a walking sessions where you set the time you want to walk and start it. After this, you can switch back to regular TV and watch as you walk. The Wii remote will continue to keep pace for you and count your steps. This is a way I have been able to add some fit time in. Enjoy! Report
For those that have a Wii Fit. There is a walking sessions where you set the time you want to walk and start it. After this, you can switch back to regular TV and watch as you walk. The Wii remote will continue to keep pace for you and count your steps. This is a way I have been able to add some fit time in. Enjoy! Report
I always found it interesting that co-workers who went to the gym / exercise regularly were the ones parking closest to the door. I always choose the farthest parking spot in the lot. Report
I have been doing most of these and they really make a difference! Great suggestions! Report
DEE2748, I really like your comments. I have emotional issues for which I use techniques called DBT or Mindfullness. Slowing down and taking my time to do everything the long way is one of those techniques so it not only keeps me moving longer and more but also quiets my mind and makes me feel more relaxed, focused, and balanced. Plus, I get the benefit of a comfy night's sleep in a well made bed and other similar perks! Report
Great article. I enjoy dancing a grapevine when I walk the dog. It makes the people I meet along the way smile. Report
I like to add dancing - at the kitchen sink, while brushing my teeth, going from room to room. Playing my favorite music motivates me to move. Report
Great posting! Let's stay active! Report
I do all the odd ball things..take the steps, park farther away, dance a little when vaccuming, hands and knees cleaning, stretching while I dust. Every little bit helps as we have all said. Report
Try this, you'll be amazed. When hand washing dishes, try not leaning on the counter/sink as you go. You will work your arms more, core, and it even perks up your heart beat. Report
I need every little bit that I can get. Report
Wow, I didn't realize not using the dishwasher several times a week is considered an activity. I usually handwash my dishes and dry them on the dishwasher rack everyday. I run a load about once a month. Report
Wonderful tips and now I realize how much extra I'm already doing daily! Report
Thanks for the reminder. I needed it. Report
I like a lot of these ideas!! I have a sedentary job and spend over two hours in the car commuting. I try to get up and move around at least five minutes every hour, march in place when I stand in line or am doing filing, etc, and I try to do some ab work when I am sitting. I like the exercise ball idea...but think my work would frown on it...jerks!! Report
Thanks for all the good ideas. I notice that I move around alot when I'm on the phone and never really thought to much about it being activity, but I guess it does burn calories. Report
I have already implemented some of these ideas but this article gave me a few more and validated what I'd been thinking! Great read. Report
Great tips...big time eye-opener. Thanks! Report
Part of why I was so skinny in college (I lost 15 pounds instead of gaining) was that freshmen were not allowed cars on campus. My roomies and I would regularly walk to Wal-Mart (1 mile away), restaurants (as far as 3 miles away), or the mall (1 hour walk there). When you didn't have another travel option it was just the way to get places, and we enjoyed the time together walking. Report
Wow, Nicole is a true Virtuous Woman from Proverbs 31! I did get lots of ideas thanks to all of you, and I will try to remember to be more active in daily activities throughout the day! Report
This is a great article! It reminded me of a "lecture" my thin mother gave me when I was young. She said I would never be overweight if I would put my whole self in whatever task I was doing. She said when I made a bed, I would need to go back and forth around it many times to make it properly. She said if I just threw up the blankets from one spot, the bed would be in bad shape and so would I. I find that I need to think about this more often because I am always trying to save steps doing things. I need to focus on just the one thing I am doing and not try to save the steps. For instance, when I get the mower out, I always get the rake, the bags for the leaves, etc. so I won't have to go back to the garage and get them. Now I try to just get the mower, then when I need a bad, I will get it, etc. I know it takes a little more time but it also burns more calories in steps and makes me more active. Thanks for the article. It was a really good one! Report